Lowndes facility to help launch future Virgin Galactic spacecraft into orbit

Virgin Mothership Eve launches the Two Unity spacecraft for a glide at Spaceport America Launch Complex in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic announced a partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences on July 6. Aurora will manufacture two motherships at its facilities in Columbus and Bridgeport, West Virginia. Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic Press Assets

A Lowndes County aerospace manufacturing facility will help design and manufacture a unique aircraft, which will help launch spacecraft into orbit.

Virgin Galactic, a space travel company, offers commercial spaceflight for customers wishing to experience weightlessness and see Earth from orbit. A flight costs $450,000; potential customers must first put down a deposit of $150,000 according to Virgin Galactic communications specialist Jeff Michael.

They announced a partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences, which maintains a facility near the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, to design and manufacture its next-generation motherships. Aurora is owned by Boeing.

Virgin Galactic’s mothership is a large aircraft that carries the company’s spacecraft to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing it. The spacecraft then uses its own thrust to continue the journey through outer space.

The partnership was announced in a July 6 press release after the companies spent two months developing specifications.

Aurora will build two of these motherships at its facilities in Columbus and Bridgeport, West Virginia. Final assembly will be completed at Virgin Galactic’s facilities and headquarters in Mojave, CA.

Michel Colglazier

“Our next-generation motherships are an integral part of scaling our operations,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in the press release. “They will be faster to produce, easier to maintain and will allow us to fly many more missions each year.”

The Two Unity spacecraft flies over Spaceport America in New Mexico. Before being dropped by the mother ship, the craft climbs to 50,000 feet and then continues its journey through space. Once the ship leaves Earth’s atmosphere, passengers experience weightlessness and can see the planet from orbit. Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic Press Assets

The company aims to complete 400 flights a year at its Spaceport America facility in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Virgin has not launched a spaceflight since its first commercial launch in July 2021, according to Michael.

Spaceport America is a Federal Aviation Administration-licensed launch complex and commercial spaceport where companies obtain leases to house spacecraft and launch missions.

Aurora, headquartered in Manassas, Va., has more than 30 years of aircraft manufacturing experience, making it an excellent choice for this project, according to Virgin’s Aerospace Systems President Sami Iyer.

“As a subsidiary of the world’s largest aerospace company (Boeing), Aurora has some of the best engineering and manufacturing facilities in the industry,” Iyer said.

By Beth

The two-vehicle contract will allow Aurora to begin development immediately. The new motherships are expected to begin flight missions in 2025.

The partnership with Aurora stems from a business strategy adopted by Virgin Galactic to outsource the manufacturing of mothership components, allowing its team to focus heavily on the design, engineering and assembly of its aircraft once ‘Aurora will have finished building the motherships.

“This partnership between Aurora and Virgin Galactic brings together teams who share a passion for aerospace, innovation and exploration,” said Aurora President and CEO Per Beith.

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■ Mothership: Find video of the Mothership in action and media images from Virgin Galactic at https://bit.ly/3uYXM9s.

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