Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Richard Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson were just a few of the VIPs in attendence at the Spaceport runway dedication.

Guest Post by Todd G. Dickson of the Las Cruces Bulletin.  This article is from the December 31, 2010 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin.  You can also click here to read all of my posts about the New Mexico Spaceport.

Despite some minor glitches and a change in leadership, the $209 million construction of Spaceport America is nearly complete.

For a select few among the hundreds at tending a runway dedication ceremony Oct. 22, a spaceport in southern New Mexico built for the next generation of private spaceflight was becoming real after 20 years of effort.

Once testing is completed in the coming year, Virgin Galactic – Spaceport America’s anchor tenant and the leading company at tempting to make spaceflight more accessible – will fly passengers into suborbital space for $200,000 a ticket.

Also at the ceremony were 30 future space passengers from among the more than 380 future astronauts who have put money down on their spaceflights. More than $50 million has been collected.

A landing by Virgin Galactic’s spaceliner prototype was as much an attraction as its creator Richard Branson, the British billionaire who is funding development of the mid-air launch system and the private space company.

The ceremony served as a final hurrah for Gov. Bill Richardson who took a major political gamble in getting lawmakers to agree to fund the venture on a new emerging industry.

So far, testing of the carrier aircraft has gone well, reaching altitudes and durations that it will have to fly daily once operations begin. The actual spaceship has only taken “capture carry” flights, but has successfully made a free fall glide test at the Mojave, Calif., spaceport and airport where it is being perfected by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites.

It is based on the technology and spaceflight system that Rutan used to win the $10 million X PRIZE for successful back-to-back privately funded flights to suborbital space.

The 42-inch-thick runway can handle any aircraft. It is made up of 24 inches of compacted earth – including a layer mixed with cement, covered by four inches of asphalt and finished with a 14-inch layer of concrete.

Virgin Galactic is Spaceport America’s anchor tenant, with the two-mile runway primarily for its use. Virgin Galactic flights will be staged out of the Terminal Hangar Facility now taking shape.

Virgin Galactic Hangar ConstructionDesigned by Foster + Partners, the 110,000 square-foot building appears to emerge out of the desert floor, which serves a dual purpose. The building’s shape, facing the west, is meant to blend in with the desert to protect the views from the historic Camino Real – an early Span ish trade route from central Mexico to Santa Fe. Buried deep in the earthen berm are tubes to absorb natural heating and cooling and provide a 65-percent reduction in power needs. The building is designed to be as sustainable as possible and is expected to earn LEED gold certification.

The building and roof is made up of more than 9,000 tons of steel and the design team is working on its interior look. The floor portion facing the runway will be an area for family and friends of the passengers to watch a video feed of the flight. The second floor will be for operations and the third floor will be an exclusive place for Virgin Galactic passengers – a kind of astronaut’s lounge.

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority is also working to help businesses and workers in Sierra and Doña Ana counties benefit from the tourism, hospitality, supply and support opportunities.

In July, Rick Homans returned as executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority after Steve Landeene quit for what he said were personal reasons, although there was criticism of his intent to buy land near the spaceport.

In a recently published column, Homans said 2010 will be considered a milestone year for the commercial spaceflight industry, and for Spaceport America: •

  • In March, Richardson signed legislation authorizing the Space Flight Informed Con sent Act, limiting liability for launch opera tors and keeping New Mexico competitive with other states such as Florida, Texas and Virginia.
  • In August, the New Mexico Space Gr ant Consortium at New Mexico State University was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as a Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.
  • In September, Armadillo Aerospace announced plans to launch three NASA-fund ed tests of its vertical takeoff and landing rocket from Spaceport America.
  • In December, dozens of local companies in Doña Ana and Sierra counties were able to meet with “prime” contractors bidding to operate Spaceport America.

“As momentous as the year 2010 has been for the commercial space industry, all indications are for 2011 to be even more exciting,” Homans said.

Contact me today at 575-523-2500 if you’d like to hear more about the Spaceport America and for more information about all that Las Cruces, New Mexico has to offer. Picacho Mountain features spectacular Custom Homes, Patio Homes, Town Homes, Neighborhood Retail, Boutique Hotel and more!

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