Our favorite billionaire, Richard Branson has opened the world’s first commercial spaceport in the New Mexico desert, the new home for his company Virgin Galactic
Branson inaugurated the building by breaking a champagne bottle against the building, while rappelling down the side of it, hung 20 meters above the ground from the main terminal roof. Described by it’s builder as, the next chapter in space transportation. “Forward-thinking pioneers are developing both vertical and horizontal launch vehicles using the power of free-market enterprise. As the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America is designed with the needs of the commercial space business in mind. Unique geographic benefits, striking iconic design, and the tradition of New Mexico space leadership are coming together to create a new way to travel into space. When it comes to outer space, New Mexico is bringing it down to earth!”
“Spaceport America”, will serve “as the operating hub for Virgin Galactic and is expected to house up to two WhiteKnightTwos and five SpaceShipTwos, in addition to all of Virgin’s astronaut preparation facilities and mission control”, the company said in a statement to the press.
About 150 people are booked for lift-off on the first flights to orbit attended the opening event. Also attending were the head of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, commercial director Stephen Attenborough, and famed US astronaut – and second person to step on the moon – Buzz Aldrin. Branson said he hoped to launch a vessel into space within the next 12 months, which he said would kick off an era of commercial space travel.
Virgin has sold 430 tickets for space travel – at $US200,000 a pop – for an estimated $US86 million. A number of private companies are rushing to fill the gap left by NASA, which ended its 30-year shuttle program in July with the completion of the final Atlantis mission to the International Space Station. In 2008 Branson’s Virgin Galactic signed a 20-year lease agreement with the State of New Mexico. Virgin Galactic’s world headquarters and its operations are all located at Spaceport America.
Spaceport is much more than Bransons launch pad for Virgin Galactic, it is literally a commercial spaceport, with facilities for commercial space launches. UP Aerospace, Inc., a commercial space launch services company based in Denver, Colorado, has announced plans to launch up to nine new missions from Spaceport America in 2012 and 2013. With new launch contracts from NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD), UP Aerospace will effectively double the number of missions it has flown from Spaceport America since 2006.
“Spaceport America has an established history with UP Aerospace, and we congratulate this forward-thinking company on its new launch contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense,” said New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Executive Director Christine Anderson. “UP Aerospace has been launching here since 2006, and we are looking forward to hosting UP Aerospace and other commercial space launch providers as they continue to meet the needs of our nation.”
pictures: Conceptual Images URS/Foster + Partners