Commercial space flight company Virgin Galactic is a step closer to taking paying passengers into space as it moves its main spaceship to Spaceport America.
The spaceship, also known as SpaceShip 2 Unity, was transferred to the New Mexico space launch centre on top of the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.
The flight from the development site in Mojave, California was an opportunity for the team to test Unity under cold and high altitude conditions for three hours.
Virgin hopes to begin taking its first cohort of paying astronauts up to the edge of space later this year, including founder Richard Branson.
The spaceship, also known as SpaceShip 2 Unity, was transferred to the New Mexico space launch centre on top of the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve
Spaceport America is based near the New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences and will be home to Virgin Galactic's commercial operations.
The manufacturing of the space vehicles by the company's sister enterprise, The Spaceship Company, will remain based in Mojave, California.
The flight on top of VMS Eve between Mojave and Truth and Consequences allowed the company to conduct pilot training and familiarisation.
Veteran Italian Air Force Test Pilot Nicola 'Stick' Pecile joined Chief Pilot Dave 'Mac' Mackay in the cockpit of the spaceship for the first time.
Pecile is the fifth pilot to complete a flight in VSS Unity. VMS Eve was piloted by Mike 'Sooch' Masucci and Frederick 'CJ' Sturckow.
Virgin Galactic CEO, George Whitesides, said: 'We moved our spaceship down to Spaceport America in Southern New Mexico under her mothership VMS Eve.
'It was the real completion of the transition period from Mojave down to New Mexico, it was the culmination of a ton of work by a lot of people to prepare the way, to get the spaceport ready and to get the ships ready for that transition.'
The flight from the development site in Mojave, California was an opportunity for the team to test Unity under cold and high altitude conditions for three hours
Virgin Galactic confirmed more than 70 people were hired locally to work for the space tourism company as part of concerted effort.
'New Mexico is going to be the world's launchpad for commercial spaceflight,' New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
'We will have a genuine Space Valley in Southern New Mexico, a hotbed of innovation and achievement and space tourism development.'
The company first started the move to New Mexico in 2019 with the transfer of 100 staff from Mojave but the biggest step was moving VSS Unity.
The relocation of VSS Unity to Spaceport America enables the company to engage in the final stages of its flight test program.
The Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System in front of Spaceport America. The company hired 70 local employees to work at the New Mexico facility
Taxpayers invested over $200 million in Spaceport America after Branson and then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, pitched the plan for the facility, with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant.
Virgin Galactic uses an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) to designate the boundary of space.
This is used by NASA and the U.S. Air Force for awarding astronaut wings.
'For Virgin Galactic, the major milestone that we perceive is the altitude at which NASA and Air Force folks get their astronaut wings, which is 50 miles,' George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said last month.
The long-held view, however, is that the edge of space begins higher than this, at an altitude of 62 miles (100km).
The next phase will see a series of captive carry and glide flights from the new operating base in New Mexico.
This will allow the spaceflight operations team to familiarise themselves with the airspace and ground control.
The team will then carry out a number of rocket-powered test flights from Spaceport America to continue the evaluation of VSS Unity's performance.
During this phase, the final spaceship cabin and customer experience evaluations will also be concluded in preparation for the start of commercial spaceflight.
VMS Eve and VSS Unity will make regular