ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Virgin Galactic appears to be getting closer to reaching its long-delayed goal of launching tourists into space.
The company said Monday it has selected Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces as the preferred hotel for its elite roster of passengers, who will pay $200,000 a person to make the flights from Spaceport America.
Virgin Galactic also announced a contract with World Class Gourmet of Las Cruces to provide catering for travelers during their training at Spaceport and said it is relocating more of its staff to New Mexico and will be hiring locally in the next few months.
The company is the anchor tenant in the $209 million futuristic Spaceport America that the state built for Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson to launch his flights from. But the project and Virgin have been plagued by delays.
Originally, Branson had said he hoped to launch the flights by the end of 2010.
The company is now hoping to begin operations by the end of this year, although its public relations agency said in a statement that the schedule "will ultimately be dictated by safety and readiness — as has always been the case."
The partnership with the hotel, however, addresses concerns about where celebrities and others who can afford the pricey flights will stay while they go through training.
Spaceport America is about 60 miles from Las Cruces and about 182 miles from Albuquerque. But even the state's largest city lacks a five-star hotel.
As part of its partnership, Hotel de Encanto will spend several million dollars on upgrades.