SPACEPORT AMERICA, N.M. (KRQE) – With a fresh coat of paint, new graphics and an overhauled release system, Virgin Galactic’s VMS (Virgin Mothership) Eve carrier aircraft is slated to head back to New Mexico soon. The plane has spent the last 16 months in Mojave, California undergoing maintenance and upgrades.
The company posted a lengthy interview about the aircraft online this week following a successful test flight in California. Crews principally upgraded the launch pylon in the center wing of the aircraft, which is designed to carry Virgin Galactic’s VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Unity spacecraft.
According to an October 2021 news release, the latest round of maintenance on the VMS Eve was designed to improve “reliability, durability and reduced maintenance requirements” before the ship goes into commercial service. It followed a successful July 2021 spaceflight with Virgin’s Founder Richard Branson on board.
The latest flight test marks the last step in the upgrades before the plane is sent back to Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The test flight lasted over two hours, marking the first time VMS Eve has been airborne since 2021.
“After we complete system checks during initial flight test, Eve will fly what we call a ferry flight to New Mexico,” said Virgin’s Senior Flight Test Director Kelly Latimer. “We have some more testing to do with the mothership and spaceship combined – including more ground testing, glide and powered flight to complete the required validations of the vehicle’s modifications.”
The mothership, sometimes called the White Knight Two, is one of the most critical components of Virgin’s plans for commercial spaceflight. The aircraft is designed to carry the Spaceship up to an altitude of nearly 50,000 feet (~9.4 miles) before releasing the spacecraft, which then ignites a rocket.
As of Virgin’s last quarterly report for stockholders, the company said it would be ready for regular commercial space travel flights in the second quarter of 2023, sometime between April and June. The company says its planning to take groups of six to space once a month.