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Virgin Galactic suspends N.M. spaceflight test over COVID-19 surge

Virgin Galactic aircraft are seen at the company's Spaceport America in Sierra County, New Mexico, about 45 miles north of Las Cruces. Photo courtesy Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic aircraft are seen at the company's Spaceport America in Sierra County, New Mexico, about 45 miles north of Las Cruces. Photo courtesy Virgin Galactic

Nov. 16 (UPI) -- A surge in COVID-19 cases has forced Virgin Galactic to suspend a planned test flight this month at its spaceport in New Mexico, the company said Monday.

Virgin Galactic was planning the first of two test flights between Nov. 19 and Nov. 23 -- which would be followed, eventually, by commercial spaceflights.

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New coronavirus restrictions in New Mexico, however, have led the company to postpone the first test flight. A makeup date was not given.

"With the health and safety of our team members in mind, and in accordance with the recent direction from the New Mexico Department of Health, we will be minimizing our New Mexico operations to the greatest degree possible," Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.

"We take this pause in stride and will be prepared to resume our preflight procedures."

New restrictions took effect in New Mexico on Monday and will last until the end of November.

Before the postponement, Virgin founder Richard Branson was supposed to take a spaceflight next year after the tests were completed. After that, the company had planned to begin taking paying customers.

"Our team members at Virgin Galactic, our future astronauts, and our fans around the world remain incredibly excited for our upcoming spaceflight," Colglazier added.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week suspended non-essential activities to curb what she called an "unprecedented spike of COVID-19 illnesses." State health officials say almost one in five New Mexicans who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 have died.

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