• Virgin Galactic dedicated its ‘Spaceport America’ in New Mexico on Monday.
  • NASA and Virgin Galactic sign deal to shuttle NASA astronauts to suborbital space.
  • A test flight malfunction in September was announced Tuesday, but officials note its malfunctions like this that make test flights necessary.
  • Officials hope for commercial flight within next couple years; ticket costs $20,000.

Just a few days before stakeholders in the private space flight industry meet for the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, Virgin Galactic revealed its ‘Spaceport America’ signifying movement in the space tourism industry.

Virgin Galactic Dedicates Spaceport | Test Flight Malfunction

Spaceport America in New Mexico was dedicated on Monday. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic, under Virgin Airlines, announced its plans for a commercial spaceship in 2004, and, at the time, founder Richard Branson said he hoped to be flying people in suborbital space by 2007. Although that deadline has come and gone, the spacecraft are now in testing stages and the company has said it’s hoping for a test flight into space late next year, according to Wired.

The new ‘Spaceport America’ in New Mexico was dedicated this week as Virgin Galactic space vehicles flew overhead and Branson repelled down the side of the building.

Virgin Galactic Dedicates Spaceport | Test Flight Malfunction

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, scales the side of Spaceport America during its dedication. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

“Today is another history-making day for Virgin Galactic,” said Branson according to Virgin Galactic’s website on Monday’s dedication. “We are here with a group of incredible people who are helping us lead the way in creating one of the most important new industrial sectors of the 21st century. We’ve never wavered in our commitment to the monumental task of pioneering safe, affordable and clean access to space, or to demonstrate that we mean business at each step along the way.”

Watch The Telegraph’s footage of the dedication:

Space.com has more on the recent momentum in commercial space flight:

I’m very bullish on the market. We’re seeing a lot of activity,” said George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. “We’re also seeing a real maturity in the industry itself.”

“I’m seeing the likelihood that several of these companies are going to be at the point where they’re testing their vehicles in the next couple of years,” Nield added. “And certainly within the next five years, I expect to see regular and frequent operations.”

Virgin Galactic also recently announced a contract with NASA that will allow it three chartered missions on SpaceShipTwo into suborbital space for research.

“We are excited to be working with NASA to provide the research community with this opportunity to carry out experiments in space,” said George Whitesides, President and CEO of Virgin Galactic, in the press release. “An enormous range of disciplines can benefit from access to space, but historically, such research opportunities have been rare and expensive. At Virgin Galactic, we are fully dedicated to revolutionizing access to space, both for tourist astronauts and, through programs like this, for researchers.”

SpaceShipTwo, which is currently in testing, recently took a nosedive after a malfunction, according to The Daily Mail. After SpaceShipTwo was lifted and released by WhiteKnightTwo on September 29, the craft began immediately to drop. Daily Mail has more:

The quick-thinking crew sprung into action to adopt the ship’s ‘feather re-entry system’ and managed to land the craft safely with seconds to spare.

[...]

The feather system is a safety feature of the craft that allows it to rely on aerodynamics to control speed and altitude, rather like the flight of a shuttlecock in badminton.

It was the first time a third seat flight test engineer had been on board during a test flight.

Despite the glitch, Scaled Composites, which is building the spaceship fleet for Virgin Galactic, wrote ‘great flying by the team and good demo of feather system’ in the flight log.

Whitesides [...] said: ‘Yes, apparently the tails exhibited stall characteristics in the test – which was a steep nose down maneuver.

‘This is why we flight test, to fully explore the aerodynamic flight envelope.’

Virgin Galactic Dedicates Spaceport | Test Flight Malfunction

SpaceShipTwo, center, is 'feathered' up to a high altitude by WhiteKnightTwo. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

According to Space.com, SpaceShipOne made three flights into space in 2004, two of which occurred within five days of each other. Then, after consumer feedback of the original model, Virgin Galactic created SpaceShipTwo with more room (allows for six passengers) and more windows.

Watch SpaceShipTwo’s first test flight from May 2011:

There are currently more than 430 ‘galactic astronauts’ booked for a Virgin Galactic flight when they become available, according to its website. If you’re interested in the $20,000 flight, check out your booking options here.

Virgin Galactic is not the only company seeking to gain an edge on the growing interest in space tourism, earlier this year The Blaze reported on a Russian company released concept designs of its ‘space hotel.’