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Spaceport Deal Announced In New Mexico

Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday announced details of a $225 million spaceport they hope will serve as the launch pad for space tourism.
Virgin Galactic will tap into technology created by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen's Mojave Aerospace Ventures, originally developed for the world’s first privately funded space vehicle -- SpaceShipOne.

When the PC was developed or the Internet launched no one knew the impact it would have on the world, said Homans. "We expect this project will bring more aerospace companies into New Mexico to settle here," he said.

The first test flights are expected to start in 2006 from a facility in the Mojave Desert, while the New Mexico spaceport is being built, said Richard Branson, during a press conference on Wednesday. The 21-foot rocket will carry experimental and commercial payloads. When the site in New Mexico is built, Mojave will remain a test center and manufacturing site.

French designer Phillipe Starck has drawn up plans for the world's first spaceport. The preliminary conceptual idea for the Virgin Galactic facility, much of it underground, would be part of a 27-square-mile complex about 45 miles northeast of Las Cruces and 25 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences.

The site is near the White Sands Missile Range, where in 1945, the United States launched its first rocket, and the world's first atomic bomb was tested. In part, the reason for picking New Mexico, Branson said, is the dry weather and commercial flights do not fly over White Sands, which was a safety factor.

A concrete slab will be poured to create the longest runway for a launching pad, power stations, buildings erected to assemble the ships and fuel storage and a weather station at a cost to the state of about $100,000.

Richardson plans to ask the New Mexico state legislature in January for $100 million in capital outlay funds during three years to pay for spaceport infrastructure from runways to water to sewer systems. Funds under the governor's proposal would be released nearly evenly during the three years.

Branson also is expected to launch a game in January on the Internet that every few months will give the winner a chance to win a trip to travel into space. It will take three days of training for those that want to take the flight into space.