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Virgin Galactic Unveils 'Gateway to Space'

First purpose-built commercial spaceport is here

Project Bandaloop dancers of San Francisco hang and dance on the side window wall of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Hangar as a large crowd plus WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo reflect in the glass.
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October 18, 2011 – Scores of enthusiastic future astronauts, celebrities, key government officials, and several EAA leaders were among the hundreds of invited guests on hand Monday to help dedicate Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport in southern New Mexico. Virgin Galactic Chairman Sir Richard Branson, who along with his children Sam and Holly will be the first commercial passengers on SpaceShipTwo, provided one of the day’s highlights when they rappelled from the roof of the gleaming new 114,000-square-foot building proclaiming the terminal as the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space.”

The facility, including an adjacent 2-mile runway, will serve as the operating hub for public space travel envisioned by Virgin’s enigmatic founder. A demonstration flight of WhiteKnightTwo and captive-carried SpaceShipTwo (see video below) provided a glimpse of the nascent space tourism industry.

Branson expressed his excitement and anticipation at history in the making. “I’m just glad to be alive,” he said, regarding the advent of commercial space travel - his recent scuba diving experience with great white sharks notwithstanding.

“For me, my children and our ever-growing community of future astronauts, many of whom are with us today, standing in front of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space as it glimmers majestically under the New Mexican sun brings our space adventure so close we can almost taste it.”

The new facility is a combined terminal and hangar facility, supporting up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles. It will also house all of the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends-and-family area, as well as public access through the New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s planned Visitor Experience.

Branson called the complex “a 21st century building for a 21st century business” that incorporates extensive environmental considerations like geothermal heating and cooling. Designed by UK-based Foster + Partners, URS Corporation, and local New Mexico architects SMPC, Spaceport America meets LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold standards for environmental quality.

It was Oshkosh where many in the general public got their first up-close look at SpaceShipOne and White Knight, the proof-of-concept prototypes for commercial space flight. Among the many EAA members on hand Monday were President/CEO Rod Hightower, Director Dave Lau, Vice President of Industry and Regulatory Affairs Sean Elliott, and Vice President of AirVenture Adam Smith. Also present were more than 150 deposit-paying Virgin Galactic customers from 21 countries. Virgin Galactic claims there are more than 450 future astronauts ranging from age 18-90 who’ve made down payments for a space flight.

Other notable attendees included Doug Shane, president of Scaled Composites; actress Kate Winslet; astronaut Buzz Aldrin; SpaceShipOne pilot Brian Binnie; and Princess Beatrice of England.

George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic president/CEO, said that much progress has been made over the past 12 months, during which they’ve conducted 16 glide flights and three feather flights. Full-scale tests of the SpaceShipTwo rocket motor took place in August, including a 55-second burn - nearly the full duration needed for space flight. If all goes as expected, first powered flights are expected to take place next year.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez heralded the coming of a “second space age - an era of commercial spaceflight, which will help us explore the universe and make life on earth better.”

Gov. Martinez also added a space flight into her personal “bucket list.”

Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic commercial director, introduced Galactic Unite, a youth educational initiative supported by the VG customers. He also announced that NASA has inked a $4.5 million contract to provide up to three flights in SS2. Attenborough predicted that by early 2012 there will be more people signed up to take a flight on SpaceShipTwo than the 517 who have flown in space in all of history to date.

SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnightTwo fly-by:

Sir Richard Branson officially christens Spaceport America the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space:


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