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View video of VSS Unity landing at Spaceport America

The VSS Unity and its carrier fly over Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences Wednesday. (Courtesy of Virgin Galactic)

LOS ANGELES — Virgin Galactic’s spaceship VSS Unity, tucked under the wing of its special carrier aircraft, headed east Thursday from Southern California on a long-awaited ferry flight to its new home in New Mexico, where it will be prepared for commercial operations carrying tourists on hops into space, the company said.

The move to New Mexico marks a significant milestone toward commercial flights, which the company has said it anticipates this year.

The mothership, named Eve, took off from Mojave Air & Space Port and circled over the Mojave Desert before turning east toward Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.

The spaceship was built at Mojave, where it made two test flights into space.

Virgin Galactic moved more than 130 employees from California to New Mexico and last year inaugurated a program to prepare its first customers for the experience.

The company also recently reported significant progress in the construction of another spaceship.

The winged rocket ships are designed to be carried to high altitude by the mothership and released.

A rocket motor will propel the spaceships into the lower fringes of space to allow tourists to briefly float in microgravity and view the Earth’s curvature. The landing is an unpowered glide to the runway.

The company says its spaceships also will carry experiments that require several minutes of microgravity.

Founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, the company is now formally named Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and went public on the New York Stock Exchange in October.

The fleet is being manufactured by The Spaceship Company, a wholly owned subsidiary.

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Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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