Virgin Galactic to build ‘astronaut campus’ for future commercial space travel

Virgin Galactic announced Tuesday that it has secured land to build an astronaut and campus facility to prepare civilians for commercial space travel. 

The aerospace and space travel company said the astronaut campus will be located in Sierra County, New Mexico, near the company’s commercial operations headquarters, Spaceport America. 

The company said the space will accommodate future astronauts and up to three of its guests ahead of their flight into space. 

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The campus will feature training facilities, an observatory, a wellness center, and recreation activities as well as dining options. The company said buildings will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment with water conservation tools and re-use, eco-friendly materials.

"At Virgin Galactic, the road to space begins in New Mexico, and we are proud to showcase the state as the launch point for our unique and unparalleled experience," Blair Rich, Virgin Galactic President & Chief Business Officer, Commercial and Consumer Operations, said in a news release. 

"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," he continued. 

Company leaders said the conceptual design of the campus has already begun but didn’t give a specific date as to when it will open. 

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The ticket window is open again for space flights at Virgin Galactic, with prices starting at $450,000 a seat.

The company’s next spaceflight is scheduled for late September in New Mexico with the Italian air force.

Unlike Blue Origin’s and SpaceX’s fully automated capsules launched from the ground by reusable rockets, Virgin Galactic uses a winged spacecraft that launches from the belly of an airplane and requires a pair of pilots. It’s reached space three times since 2018. The second trip carried a third company employee.

Last month, Virgin Galactic announced it had selected the Phoenix suburb of Mesa as the site where it will assemble its next class of rocket ships with the facility capable of producing up to six spaceships per year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.