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Virgin Galactic plans new astronaut training facility near Spaceport America

A view of the high deserts of New Mexico where Virgin Galactic will build a new astronaut training facility.
A view of the high desert of New Mexico where Virgin Galactic will build a new astronaut training facility. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic has acquired land for a new state-of-the-art astronaut campus and training facility.

The aerospace and space tourism company purchased a site for the campus in Sierra County, New Mexico, close to its primary launch site, Spaceport America. The future facility will help prepare commercial space tourists for flights aboard Virgin Galactic's air-launched SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane, as well as accommodate up to three guests per passenger. 

The campus will include "training facilities, purposeful accommodations and tailored experiences as well as an observatory, wellness center, recreation activities and unique dining options," according to a Virgin Galactic statement (opens in new tab). The company wrote that the facility was designed with sustainability and minimal environmental impact in mind, incorporating principles such as "water conservation and reuse, eco-friendly materials, and low-carbon mobility" as well as encouraging visitors to view and appreciate the natural landscape surrounding the site.

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"Our future astronauts begin a journey that is curated, high-touch and distinctly Virgin, which will culminate at the astronaut campus and training facility," Blair Rich, Virgin Galactic's president of commercial and consumer operations, said in the statement. "Customers who buy a ticket today will stay and train here, along with their guests, for five nights. While our future astronauts are completing spaceflight training, their guests will live out a tailored itinerary of discovery and educational experiences on the campus and throughout southern New Mexico."

In the same statement, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said that the new astronaut training facility will "spur further economic activity for New Mexico, creating more local jobs and attracting new visitors and spending to the area," adding that "New Mexico is proud to be home to the future of aerospace innovation and space tourism."

A large part of that future aerospace innovation stems from the state's development of Spaceport America, widely considered to be the first spaceport dedicated entirely to commercial spaceflight. Virgin Galactic signed a 20-year lease with the state of New Mexico to operate its "Gateway to Space" terminal at the spaceport, which opened in 2019. Other tenants at Spaceport America include Spinlaunch, UP Aerospace, HAPSMobile, and Aerovironment.

Virgin Galactic is in the conceptual design phases of development on its new astronaut training facility at Spaceport America, and the company has not yet announced a timeline for its construction or opening.

Although the company has not yet flown any paying customers, Virgin Galactic has already flown one of its space planes, VSS Unity, in a fully crewed flight that carried passengers including billionaire Virgin founder Richard Branson to 282,000 feet (86,000 meters) in July 2021.

In May 2022, Virgin Galactic announced that the company will delay the start of its commercial space tourism flights to the first quarter of 2023 due to "supply chain and labor constraints." A seat aboard VSS Unity currently costs $450,000.

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Brett Tingley
Editor, Space.com

Brett is a science and technology journalist who is curious about emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett's work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery, and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett is a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, an avid LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and two children.