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Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo Tours New Mexico Spaceport

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Virgin Galactic's twin-fuselage WhiteKnightTwo airplane, the mothership for the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, flew hundreds of miles from its current home base at California's Mojave Air and Space Port to its future home at New Mexico's Spaceport America on Wednesday.

"Great opportunity for our pilots, ground crews and partners to practice for operational flights!" Virgin Galactic tweeted. More practice sessions are planned on Thursday, including a flight to a backup airfield in El Paso, the company said.

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SpaceShipTwo didn't blast off this time, but Virgin Galactic is gearing up for a series of Mojave test flights that could lead to the rocket plane's first honest-to-goodness trip into outer space later this year — 10 years after its predecessor, SpaceShipOne, took the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight.

This week, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson told NBC's Brian Williams on the TODAY show that he expected to go into space from New Mexico early next year. More than 700 people have paid as much as $250,000 to follow in Branson's footsteps.

NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo and televise Branson's spaceflight.

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