Commercial space travel is getting a little closer in Arizona.
Virgin Galactic, a sister company of Virgin Atlantic, announced Thursday that it will open an assembly manufacturing facility adjacent to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa.
Construction of the facility is underway and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2023, according to the company’s announcement.
The Mesa plant could produce up to six spacecraft per year and bring “hundreds of highly skilled aerospace engineering and manufacturing jobs to the region,” according to the company.
Virgin Galactic has manufacturing, design and engineering facilities in California and its operational headquarters are in New Mexico. From the Mesa Assembly Plant, the spacecraft will be transported to New Mexico for flight testing and commercial operation.
The company aims to perform 400 spaceflights a year from Spaceport America starting in late 2025.
Flying Virgin Galactic? Here’s how much for a seat and what’s included
“We are thrilled to expand into the greater Phoenix area, home to exceptional aerospace talent – and we look forward to growing our team and fleet at our new facility,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. the published press release.
Governor Doug Ducey praised the announcement on Twitter. “Another huge manufacturing win for Arizona, creating hundreds of jobs. The new Mesa facility will be the final assembly point for commercial spacecraft,” he said.
“Welcome to our town” Mesa Mayor John Giles posted on Twitter. “You will feel right at home with innovative companies choosing to locate at @GatewayAirport.”
Mesa is a city of over 500,000 people southeast of Phoenix.
What is Virgin Galactic?
Virgin Galactic was launched 18 years ago to pioneer spaceflight for individuals and researchers.
The company won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration last year to transport people to space, according to USA Today. A few weeks later, the founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson flew into spacebeating Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Orbit by just days.
Billionaires around the world are in a space race to make commercial space travel a reality. That includes Branson, Bezos, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk.
So how much will it cost to take a space flight? Virgin Galactic opened bookings for its flights earlier this year with a price of $450,000, reports USA Today. The complete flight will last 90 minutes.
At Mesa, the company will assemble its next-generation Delta-class spacecraft, which Virgin Galactic calls its production vehicle designed to fly into space weekly from Spaceport America, its headquarters about 45 miles north of Las Cruces, in New Mexico.
“The company is currently selecting various vendors to build major spacecraft subassemblies, which will be delivered to the new Mesa facility for final assembly,” according to the announcement.
The Mesa Final Assembly Plant will accelerate production for the Delta fleet, Colglazier said.
The larger Arizona Aerospace Base
Arizona and the Phoenix metro area have been home to various aerospace and defense companies for decades. A 2021 report by PwC ranked Arizona fifth in aerospace manufacturing attractiveness, behind only Texas in first place as well as Ohio, Washington and Georgia. The study gave Arizona high marks for state tax policy, manufacturing costs, and labor.
Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrup Grumman, which recently announced an expansion of its satellite manufacturing plant in Gilbert to meet growing demand for spacecraft, are among notable industry employers with a strong presence in the Valley of the ‘East. The facility builds satellites for NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Boeing products include military helicopters built in Mesa, while General Dynamics in south Scottsdale designs and supplies space, communications and intelligence systems, including for NASA.
Virgin Galactic recently announced a partnership with Aurora, a Virginia-based Boeing subsidiary, for “the design and manufacture of the company’s next-generation motherships.”
Honeywell Aerospace has a large aviation-focused manufacturing facility in Phoenix, providing products that support navigation, safety, propulsion, power, atmospheric pressure and more.
Arizona also has notable defense and aerospace companies outside of the Phoenix metro area, including a Raytheon missile manufacturing complex in Tucson. Raytheon led all other companies for most aerospace/defense employees in Arizona in last year’s Republic 100 special report, with 14,700 workers statewide.
Mesa City Councilman Kevin Thompson, who represents the area around Gateway Airport, said, “It’s always good to have a diverse economy and bring in new economic tools.
“It’s not just good for Mesa, it’s good for the region as a whole.”
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