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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Virgin Galactic opens first spaceport

By: Jeffrey Van Camp


Virgin Galactic has opened its first commercial spaceport "Spaceport America" in New Mexico. The facility will be able to launch all known types of spacecraft.

Fresh off its first successful solo space flight, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic airline has completed the runway to its first commercial spaceport. “Spaceport America,” in Upham, New Mexico, is now operational. The port includes a two-mile long runway with a thickness of 42 inches, or 3.5 feet. It’s built to support any form of spacecraft currently in existence–a short compatibility list.

Virgin CEO Richard Branson: “The last few weeks have been some of the most exciting in Virgin Galactic’s development. Our spaceship is flying beautifully and will soon be making powered flights, propelled by our new hybrid rocket motor, which is also making excellent progress in its own test program. The investment deal with our new partners Aabar has successfully closed, securing funding for the remainder of the development program and we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people coming forward to secure their own reservations for this incredible experience. To be here in New Mexico to witness this historic moment is the perfect end to a great month.”

In addition to the runway, the terminal hangar facility is nearly completed. The building will be able to house up to five spacecraft and two guiding planes.

“With the recent signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 by President Obama, it is clear that our nation’s future space efforts will be working even more closely than with the growing commercial space transportation industry,” said Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator of NASA. “Innovative approaches that foster this new commercial industry will bring more competition and opportunities that will lower the costs of spaceflight and payload services for America’s aerospace programs, and introduce new human space transportation systems.”

Space flight isn’t all that Virgin has up its sleeves. Branson also has a commercial underwater plane (a submarine) called the Necker Nymph. For a modest $25,000, you can rent it for a week.