This conceptual image shows how Spaceport America is expected to look at completion in 2010
The tantalising prospect of escaping the Earth’s atmosphere and experiencing weightlessness has been in the pipeline for two years. And now it’s officially arrived.
Workers in New Mexico have broken ground in the construction of a terminal and hanger facility for the world’s first rocket spaceport for sending wealthy customers to the edge of space.
Members of the general are being tempted with the ‘most incredible experience of their lives’ for $200,000 (£122,000) from as early as 2010.
Called Spaceport America, the $200million (£122million) taxpayer-funded project will launch spacecraft off the 10,000-foot runway attached to an aeroplane.
A conceptual image shows Spaceport America up and running with dozens of space tourists waiting for ‘the most incredible experience of their lives’
The spacecraft will then break free and rocket 62 miles (100 kilometers) into space for a total of two hours including five minutes of weightlessness before coming back down to Earth.
Suborbital tourism firm Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, added its weight to the project in January when it signed a lease with the southern state to be the spaceport’s anchor tenant.
Spaceport’s executive director Steve Landeene said: ‘It’s real! You’re not talking about things drawn on paper anymore.’
Operating like an airport, the spaceport will offer a location where aerospace companies can lease building and hangar space.
On its website, Virgin Galactic promises travellers an intense experience, ‘approaching sensory overload.’ It says: ‘Our goal is to provide you with the most incredible experience of your life.’
Its competitors, such as XCOR Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace, are developing spacecraft for $95,000 flights. And as flights become more routine, costs should drop.
A conceptual image shows Spaceport America with a pair of aeroplanes on the adjacent runway in New Mexico
Similar spaceport ventures are proposed in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and elsewhere. Besides New Mexico, Virgin Galactic also hopes to ferry tourists to space from northern Sweden.
According to Mr Landeene, Spaceport America is about more than just space tourism. The facility will also tap other business ventures such as medical research and communication projects, he said.
State officials say the site will provide 500 construction jobs over the next four years and spark economic development, education and tourism for generations.
‘It will bring jobs, give our students the opportunity to have careers in math and science here in New Mexico and create tourism and other long-term economic activity,’ Landeene said.
Virgin Galactic is building the spaceship that will blast passengers to the edges of the atmosphere with American aerospace designer Burt Rutan.
In 2004, Rutan’s SpaceShipOne became the first privately built manned craft to reach space.
A sign points towards the site of New Mexico’s spaceport, which begins construction June 20, 2009
SpaceShipTwo, under development at Rutan’s facility in California, will be carried aloft by a mothership called White Knight Two, unveiled last summer. The smaller craft will separate and rocket into space.
Spaceport America’s runway is slated for completion next summer. The terminal and hangar should be ready for tenants in December 2010, when Virgin Galactic hopes to begin hurtling the general public aloft.
Five miles from the terminal is a launching pad for 20-foot (6-meter) rockets used mostly for science experiments. It’s been operational for the past two years.
Describing the experience on its website, Virgin Atlantic says: ‘You are instantly pinned back into your seat, overwhelmed but enthralled by the howl of the rocket motor and the eye-watering acceleration which, as you watch the read-out, has you travelling in a matter of seconds, at almost 2500mph, over 3 times the speed of sound.
Via Daily Mail