29 March, 2007

Spaceport America Takes Off

Sometimes a piece of news just bucks you up. When I read today that Spaceport America had secured US$33 million to start construction, I must say I got a real thrill. Just think about it; the world’s very first commercial spaceport! What’s more, Virgin Galactic will have its world headquarters there from which it will operate the world’s first scheduled passenger spaceflights in just a few years’ time.

Situated 45 miles (72.5 km) North of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the 18,000 acre (7,284 hectares) Spaceport America will be operated by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority – and isn’t the existence of such an institution a wonder in itself? As well as Virgin Galactic, it has attracted several companies in the fledgling commercial spaceflight business. UP Aerospace made the spaceport’s inaugural launch in August 2006 and describes it on its website as ‘our launch facility’ and Spaceport America is the official venue for the annual X-Prize competition. The New Mexico State Governor, Bill Richardson, is clearly backing this important development to the hilt and, what’s more, securing some very high-profile participation.

This first decade of the 21st Century is clearly the moment when commercial passenger space operations finally take off. Spaceport America may be slightly ahead of the pack but other passenger spaceports are planned for Singapore (near Changi International Airport), the United Arab Emirates (at Ras Al-Khaimah), as well as others in the USA – e.g. Wallops Island, Virginia, Kwajalein atoll (from which SpaceX currently launches) and California and Oklahoma. There is even one in Sweden (Kiruna) and several more are being considered all over the place.

Are these exciting times or what? (Unless you are looking forward to an Australian passenger spaceport, that is...)

Of course, it can’t be a coincidence that Spaceport America isn’t too far away from Roswell.

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