Four years later than expected, Richard Branson and New Mexico governor Susana Martinez finally dedicated the just completed Spaceport America terminal hanger facility on Monday morning. The facility is not far from Truth or Consequences, the small desert town that renamed itself in 1950 in an attempt to boost tourism, and will serve as the homebase for Virgin Galactic. At $200,000 per passenger, buying a ticket on Virgin Galactic is not cheap and neither was the 110,152-square-foot hangar that will house the company's two spacecraft, mission control and a waiting area for the space tourists. Funded by both Branson's company and taxpayer dollars, there's something very American about the $209 million building and accompanying 2-mile-long runway.
"While there is still work to be done in driving to completion of the vehicle development program," Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides said at the ceremony, "the dedication event is an opportunity for us to recognize all the people in New Mexico and around the world who have worked so hard to turn a patch of ranch land into the world's first commercial spaceport."
They are indeed running behind schedule. Branson originally slated the first flight from on Virgin Galactic to take place in 2007, but a series of setbacks during construction have caused some delays. Nevertheless, 455 people have already bought tickets for the 2 1/2-hour suborbital flights that include only about five minutes of weightlessness. Based on the available images of the spaceport, though, passengers will be pampered on the ground while they wait. Local news station KRQE offers this flyover view of the nearly completed facility.
Spaceport America posted this dramatic image of the facility near completion in late August. They've yet to release images of the finished building.
This artist's rendering shows off the dramatic features of the very futuristic facility flanked by Virgin Galactic aircraft.
The view from the opposite side is even more impressive.
The walk into the spaceport takes passengers and guests down a long narrow corridor.
Built into the desert, the building boasts all kinds of green features. Everything from cooling the building to powering the lights borrows from the local environment.
Despite the flashy touches, however, the waiting area just looks like a regular old airport.