Spaceport America is a visionary project that has been many years in the making. When completed, it will be the world's first commercial spaceport. Located 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and 45 miles north of Las Cruces, Spaceport America is operated by the State of New Mexico in partnership with Virgin Galactic as its anchor tenant. The Spaceport will become Virgin Galactic’s operations headquarters.
Virgin Galactic has plans to operate commercial flights on its suborbital spaceship, SpaceShipTwo. The spaceship will be launched by its mother-craft, White Knight Two, which will take it to an altitude of 50,000 feet - from where it will blast off into a two-and-a-half hour suborbital trajectory. The spaceship will apex 70 miles from the Earth's surface at more than 2,000 mph. Passengers will undergo a three day pre-flight training process, prior to space flights.
In addition, various commercial and military space operations will also be launched from the facility. Lockheed Martin, Moog-FTS, UP Aerospace, Inc., Microgravity Enterprises, Inc., Armadillo Aerospace, and Celesti will be leasing the use of the spaceport to launch commercial space vehicles. The spaceport will also be used by Kirtland AFB, Holloman AFB and NASA.
The facility’s concrete runway, which is is 200 feet wide by 10,000 feet long (nearly two miles) is designed to support horizontal launch operations like WhiteKnightTwo and other manned and unmanned aerospace projects.
The concept for the Spaceport was initiated the early 1990s, when a group called, the Southwest Space Task Force, had aspirations to take New Mexico’s space industry to the next level - that of commercial space launch vehicles. Based on years of study, they choose a 27 square-mile state-owned site, 45 miles north of Las Cruces as a location for a spaceport.
The Task Force approached the Economic Development Cabinet Secretary, Rick Homans with their concept in 2003. He presented the idea of a New Mexico spaceport to then Governor Richardson. He also negotiated with the X Prize Foundation to locate the X Prize Cup in New Mexico. The X Prize Foundation is a non-profit organization that designs and manages public competitions intended to encourage technological development that could benefit mankind. These efforts spearheaded legislation to finance the spaceport project.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aviation company then joined the venture. Virgin Galactic was teamed up with Burt Rutan, an aerospace engineer, who had founded Scaled Composites, an aerospace company that designed the sub-orbital spaceship, SpaceShipOne.
Rutan's SpaceShipOne, part of a project financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004. The Ansari X Prize was a space competition sponsored by the X Prize Foundation, which offered a $10 million prize for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. Modeled after early 20th-century aviation prizes, the competition was aimed to spur the development of low-cost spaceflight. The prize was named after Anousheh Ansari and Amir Ansari, following their multi-million dollar donation to the foundation.
Following the Ansari X Prize success, Rutan's company designed White KnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, which will operate from Spaceport America.
New Mexico was selected as the site for the facility because it offers stable weather and wide-open spaces that have proven ideal for the aerospace industry since Robert Goddard, the Father of Modern Rocketry, first began conducting rocket research in Roswell in the 1930s. He was followed by Wernher von Braun at White Sands in the 1940s, and NASA in the 1980s.
The New Mexico site, at an altitude of 4,600 ft. was also selected because it offers a low population density, and congestion-free, shared restricted airspace with the neighboring White Sands Missile Range.
The state also has a large pool of highly-skilled technicians and engineers, and the legislative climate in New Mexico encourages the development of space operations.
Among government agencies and private companies that currently conduct space operations in New Mexico are - NASA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, General Dynamics, and other companies.
Systems such as the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System have been operated from New Mexico for more than three decades. That system provides services for the Space Shuttle, Hubble Telescope, Sea Launch, European Space Agency, and other space operations. In addition, satellites used to monitor the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the gathering land use data, and the fighting of forest fires are operated from various sites in the state.
The Spaceport will benefit the State of New Mexico through construction contracts and employment opportunities and it will also attract tourism to the area. Guided group bus tours are currently available as the spaceport project develops.
The Spaceport America groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Friday, June 19, 2009. On February 27, 2010, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed the Space Flight Informed Consent Act into law. The Spaceport is scheduled for completion during 2011.
It is uncertain, at this time, whether extraterrestrials will be using the spaceport.
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Edited by Mel Fenson from information gathered from the web.