(Sen) - Virgin Galactic has chosen a spaceport being built in New Mexico as its initial launch site. The design and build of the new spaceport is being regulated by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) which has selected a design by Lord Foster + Partners, one of the world's leading architect firms. Virgin Galactic is believed to have signed a 20 year lease for the new facility.
New Mexico has a long history as a base for space exploration. In 1946 the V2 Rocket built by Wernher von Braun was successfully launched from the White Sands Missile Range. In 1961 space chim Enos was launched into orbit from the Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico. The Space Shuttle Columbia landed in New Mexico in 1982 and more recently the X-Prize winner SpaceShipOne made its historic 2 visits to space in 2 weeks in 2004.
Organised into a highly efficient and rational plan, the Spaceport has been designed to relate to the dimensions of the spacecraft. There is also a careful balance between accessibility and privacy. The astronauts’ areas and visitor spaces are fully integrated with the rest of the building to convey the thrill of space travel. The more sensitive zones - such as the control room - are visible, but have limited access. Visitors and astronauts enter the building via a deep channel cut into the landscape. The retaining walls form an exhibition space that documents the history of the region and its settlers, alongside a history of space exploration. The strong linear axis continues on a galleried level to the ‘superhangar’ - which houses the spacecraft and the simulation room – through to the terminal building.
Designed to have minimal embodied carbon and few additional energy requirements, the scheme has been designed to achieve the prestigious LEED Platinum accreditation. The low-lying form is dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass, which buffers the building from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation. Natural light enters via skylights, with a glazed façade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway.
Lord Foster said: "We are absolutely thrilled to be part of the dynamic team chosen to design the world’s first space terminal. This technically complex building will not only provide a dramatic experience for the astronauts and visitors, but will set an ecologically sound model for future Spaceport facilities."
“New Mexico has worked hard to bring us to their exciting new spaceport facility,” stated Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic. “The State has several factors that make it an ideal operations base: climate, free airspace, low population density, high altitude, and stunning scenery. Our team was highly impressed by the professionalism and the competitive pitch the state and its advisors developed. We look forward to working together to make the “Final Frontier” a reality for tens of thousands of pioneering space tourists. Our activities will prove the commercial viability and excellent safety technology behind private personal spaceflight and give birth to a new industry in New Mexico.”