Houston Spaceport, New Mexico we (will soon) have lift-off.
Stratosphere defying stars and billionaires alike will soon be able to make the trek out to Spaceport America, NM for the first of the commercial tourism flights as charted by the Virgin Galactic/New Mexico venture that is Spaceport AMERICA.
From the Associated Press via Las Cruces Sun News:
White Knight Two touches down in NM desert
Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and prospective astronauts gathered in the southern New Mexico desert Friday to celebrate the completion of the runway at the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.
Spaceport America is the world’s first facility designed specifically to launch commercial spacecraft. The celebration of its nearly-two-mile-long runway comes less than two weeks after another major step for Virgin Galactic: the first solo glide flight of its space tourism rocket ship.
Branson called it an emotional and historic day. The British billionaire said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months, and he will be among the first passengers…
Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two – the special jet-powered mothership that will carry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude – also made an appearance Friday, passing over the spaceport several times before landing on the new runway.
Tickets for suborbital space rides aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $200,000. The 2½-hour flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness. Some 380 customers have already made deposits totaling more than $50 million, Virgin Galactic officials said Friday.
Branson, the president of Virgin Group, which counts airlines, entertainment and mobile communications among its businesses, partnered with famed aviation designer Burt Rutan on the venture.
Until now, space travel has been limited to astronauts and a handful of wealthy people who have shelled out millions to ride Russian rockets to the international space station.
Some of the soon-to-be astronauts attended Friday’s runway dedication.
While space tourism projects such as Virgin Galactic’s venture receive plenty of publicity, the commercial space industry is seeing rapid developments with companies like SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., seeking to win NASA work to supply the International Space Station.
SpaceX has successfully placed a dummy payload into orbit and has contracts to lift satellites next. Other firms, including Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif., and Armadillo Aerospace of Rockwell, Texas, are testing systems that would carry unmanned payloads to space.
Last month, Congress approved legislation that affirms President Barack Obama’s intent to use commercial carriers to lift humans into near-Earth space.