Virgin Galactic signs on to New Mexico spaceport

New Mexico and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson signed a memorandum of understanding this week that gives Branson the rights to lease a portion of the state's spaceport, which is being developed for private space flight, according to a storyby the Associated Press.

Virgin Galactic has been planning to launch its suborbital spaceflights from New Mexico for some time, but the memorandum makes it more official. According to the story, the two groups sets the terms of a lease that would require Virgin Galactic to pay the state $27.5 million over 20 years for the use of the spaceport.

Terms include a lease for 83,000 square feet of hangar and terminal space for $1 million per year for the first five years, and then $1.5 million per year thereafter. New Mexico's spaceport is expected to be finished by 2009 or 2010; and Branson has said that his company will launch its first flight in early 2009.

New Mexico officials said they expect a lease based on the agreement to be signed within three months.

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