Spaceport America, the first hub of Richard Branson’s impressive Virgin Galactic, includes basic operational infrastructure such as an airfield, launch pads, terminal / hangar facility, emergency response capabilities, utilities and roadways. The site will be capable of accommodating the activities of both vertical and horizontal takeoff space launch vehicles, serving as the base for pre-flight and post-flight activities, and providing a tourism experience for interested visitors and spectators.
The complex is located about 140 km (87 miles) north of El Paso in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin in New Mexico, United States, just west of the White Sands Missile Range. The low-lying form is dug into the landscape to exploit thermal mass, buffering the building from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as it catches the westerly winds for ventilation and maximizes the use of daylight via skylights.
To say the site is remote doesn’t do it justice: a power substation had to be installed, wells dug, water and sewer systems put in place; and while the spaceport will have a restaurant, at the moment the nearest place to grab a meal is more than 20 miles away. Although Spaceport America officially opened in 2010, the public areas aren’t slated for completion until 2013 by which Spaceport Authority hopes to make the place more inviting. Plans are afoot for an elaborate visitor center complete with interactive exhibits devoted to all manner of space-oriented activities. Find more at Virgin Galactic.