By 2020, Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic could launch customers into space from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic envisions a world where the arbitrary and divisive lines on Earth are blurred; Branson himself sees space as a uniting force for humankind. With sincere optimism, he states: “We are at the vanguard of a new industry determined to pioneer twenty-first-century spacecraft, which will open space to everybody — and change the world for good.”
Spaceport America, the Launchpad for Virgin Galactic in 2020, is a licensed 110,152 sq. ft. site designated to launch spacecraft on State Trust Land in the southern desert basin of New Mexico. The nearest town, Truth or Consequences, is 20 miles away, where a visitor’s center lies for tourists. Designed specifically for commercial users, the spaceport can accommodate vertical and horizontal launches of aerospace vehicles. SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturing company, tested takeoffs and landings here in 2013. Since 2012, 21 suborbital flights have been successfully launched.
Spaceport America, under the diligent leadership of CEO Daniel Hicks & Director of Operations Chris Lopez, are looking ahead to a busy 2020! Although Virgin Galactic are their current largest client and anchor partner, they have no less than 6 other growing partnerships with other aviation companies turning an otherwise quiet corner of New Mexico into a sophisticated hive of construction & engineering. Having recently spent a fascinating visit with Chris Lopez touring facilities & meeting the team at Spaceport America we can attest to the potential of this facility. Its run with a military precision focused on safety & meeting the core requirements of each client on-site, the atmosphere on the ground is one of anticipation & pride. Spaceport America operates a small but accomplished team and every day is bringing more growth to the organization & local community.
The site began development two decades ago to optimize the commercial accessibility of spaceflight. William Blaine Richardson III, the governor of New Mexico between 2003 and 2011, announced with Branson in 2006 that Virgin Galactic would be headquartered in New Mexico to fulfil this goal, though now the company’s headquarters are located in Mojave, California.
As aforementioned Virgin Galactic operates as the anchor tenant at Spaceport America, but other companies such as UP Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, Hypersciences, SpinLaunc, EXOS Aerospace and Boeing have also operated as tenants at the spaceport, which has been open since October 2011 and cost $209 million to complete.
In August 2019, the facility was deemed ready to launch when Virgin Galactic recently completed designing and furnishing the interior. The building itself was designed to be LEED Gold certified, including solar thermal panels, natural ventilation and eco-friendly cooling and heating techniques.
Virgin Galactic, the largest client of the Spaceport, is the first commercial space company to take people into space. Already 600 people have put down a deposit of $250,000 each (half the total price of the ticket: $500,000) to reserve their spot on the spacecraft, including Leonardo Dicaprio, for a 90-minute flight on the company’s suborbital ship, SpaceShipTwo (SS2). The SS2 is attached beneath the carrier plane White Knight Two, which can reach an altitude of 50,000 ft. before unshackling under its own rocket power. Virgin Galactic plans to fly every six weeks and will train customers over three days on flight preparation, bonding and on-site training.
According to their website, Virgin Galactic believes “the answers to many of the challenges we face in sustaining life on our beautiful but fragile planet, lie in making better use of space.” By 2020, it’s been predicted by Virgin Galactic that we could be seeing commercial flights launch into space from the Spaceport, which would be an unprecedented moment in human history led by Branson’s pioneering vision. The benefits aren’t only commercial nor are they solely for the ticketholders themselves — this type of space exploration could benefit all of humanity by teaching us about science, human psychology and physiology, and much more.
In July 2019, it was announced that Spaceport America would be the first commercial space company to go public on the New York Stock Exchange. That means the public could potentially help fund Branson’s venture, though Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are also vying for a spot in space tourism. It’s clear that change is in the air.
Fewer than 600 people have been to space, and yet, the night sky, the moon, our solar system’s planets and the universe as a whole, have been a source of wonder throughout human history. With space tourism, we could potentially see the bigger picture, overcoming the conflicts and struggles of our day-to-day lives with a new worldview. And, we could grow and evolve individually and societally through this exploration of the unknown. That’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.
Image Source: The Prospertere Magazine