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Volume 24, Number 2, Winter 2006

New developments in private space flight

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, announced December 14, 2005 that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27-square miles of state land.

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

Virgin Galactic plans to create a five-star destination experience in New Mexico to accommodate customers, their families, and space enthusiasts.

Branson and Richardson confirmed that Virgin Galactic plans to inaugurate space flights out of New Mexico in 2009 or 2010, once construction of the spaceport is complete, and plans to send 50,000 customers to space in the first ten years of operation.

Customers will spend training time in simulators and light aircraft vehicles in order to prepare for the g-forces they will encounter in space. They will also learn how to operate a “personal communications console” that will allow them to record their experience in space. The flight itself will consist of SpaceShipTwo being propelled into suborbital space by a rocket motor after it is dropped by a launch aircraft.

Funding for construction of the spaceport is expected to come from a combination of state capital outlay, federal appropriations, and a local-option gross receipts tax that will be proposed to voters of southern New Mexico counties that stand to benefit from the spaceport and the resulting job growth.

A design for SpaceShipTwo is now in its final planning stages and construction of the commercial prototype is expected to commence in 2006 and be flying by 2008. It is expected that five SpaceShipTwo’s and two White Knight Two carrier aircrafts will be built, in order to allow 50,000 customers to experience personal space flight over a ten year period up to 2019.

Currently, there are 40,000 registrations from individuals from 120 countries.

New Mexico’s spaceport has been in the planning stages for 15 years. The spaceport, located in Sierra County, about 45 miles northeast of Las Cruces, and 25 miles southeast of Truth or Consequence is approximately 27 square miles of open, generally level, range land with an average elevation of 4700 feet.

From New Mexico Economic Development Department press release.

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