The world’s first commercial spaceport, which will be the hub for Virgin’s consumer spaceflights, is now 90 per cent complete.
The 1,800-acre Spaceport America site, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the home base for Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s most ambitious business venture yet.
It already boasts a runway stretching to nearly two miles long, a futuristic styled terminal hanger, and a dome-shaped Space Operations Centre.
The work is now just months away from completion, according to a spaceport spokesman, and is set to be done by the end of the year, well in time for the first expected Virgin Galactic spaceflights in 2013.
Christine Anderson, the newly appointed executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, told SPACE.com she was ‘jazzed’ about the progress made so far.
‘When you think about what a feat that is, to build all that anywhere, but then to build it in the middle of the high desert in New Mexico — that’s a small city that was built,’ she said.
‘So hats off to all the contractors and architects and everybody else that spent a lot of time and sweat equity in its development.’
But Ms Anderson has already met challenges. No sooner had she started in her new job, the New Mexico legislature slashed the spaceport office budget by more than half.
And there is no firm date yet for Spaceport America to begin operations.
irgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system is still in testing and she says it is up to them when they decide it is safe to fly tourists to the edge of space.
At a best guess, she told SPACE.com, flights could begin in the first quarter of 2013.
Construction of phase two has already begun and is set for completion in time for Virgin Galactic’s pioneering flights.
It will include the completion of the Vertical Launch Complex facility, two visitor centres in nearby towns and a further visitor centre on the main spaceport site.