Spaceport America: More than space tourism (photos)
Spaceport America is sprouting up out of the New Mexico desert with a goal of ushering in a new era of commercial space flight.
Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space
This isn't just a mission control center or a place for space tourists to hang out, it's the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space. This building, still under construction, is Virgin Galactic's base of operations as a tenant at Spaceport America. Much like a regular airport, Spaceport America is owned by the state of New Mexico.
The back side of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America is designed to visually blend in with the desert landscape. The area is also along the historic Camino Real trade route. Wagon ruts are still visible in some places and working cattle ranches are nearby. No word yet on what the local cows think about the Spaceport launches.
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space features an epic name. Richard Branson's space tourism company has signed a 20-year lease with Spaceport America in New Mexico. The undulating building was designed to meld with the surrounding landscape while housing mission operations, space tourists, and spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic's Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert will be home to space tourists as they engage in three days of training before catching their suborbital flights. The building is still under construction, but Virgin Galactic is aiming to launch flights in late 2013.
It takes a lot of effort to keep the massive glass windows of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building clean, given the prevalent desert dust. Spaceport America sits in the Jornada del Muerto, not far from White Sands Missile Range. The restricted air space makes this an ideal location for the spaceport.
Towering rounded doors at the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America in New Mexico are designed to accommodate spacious spacecraft. These doors are on tracks that allow them to roll out of the way. Two construction workers are walking around the edge. The structure is still under construction. It will eventually house space flight training and Virgin Galactic's mission control.
Spaceport America can handle vertical launches, but its real specialty is horizontal. A 10,000-foot runway can accommodate very large space launch vehicles that need a lot of room to take off. The Spaceport is already planning to lengthen the runway by an additional 2,000 feet. The state-owned land in the New Mexico desert gives the spaceport plenty of room to expand. This is a view from one end of the runway.
There are only two buildings currently standing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. One is the architecturally-impressive Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space. The other is the Spaceport Operations Center. This will house operational equipment and the Spaceport Authority offices. It should be open and occupied before the end of 2012.
Spaceport America is in a remote location, 35 miles away from the New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences. The spaceport is not currently open to visitors, but welcome centers are expected to be opened in Truth or Consequences and Hatch, N.M. Currently, private tours of the spaceport are available. An interactive visitor's center is part of the spaceport's Phase 2 plan and should be opening in late 2013 or early 2014.