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Virgin Galactic moves into New Mexico spaceport

October 17, 2011 |  3:44 pm

Spaceport_America_Dedication_5 (2)

Las Cruces, N.M., officially joined the list of the nation’s major space centers Monday when a newly completed terminal and hangar facility was turned over to British billionaire Richard Branson and his commercial space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic.

The company aims to launch paying customers beyond Earth’s confines from the new $209-million futuristic-looking facility, named Spaceport America.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez joined Branson and a crowd of more than 800 others during the dedication ceremonies.

“Today is another history-making day for Virgin Galactic,” Branson said at the event. “We are here with a group of incredible people who are helping us lead the way in creating one of the most important new industrial sectors of the 21st century.”

Virgin Galactic said it has taken about 455 reservations for the ride. The price per flight for a would-be space tourist is $200,000.

Instead of launching people directly into space with a rocket, Virgin Galactic plans to do the following: A rocket plane with six passengers will be attached to the wings of a White Knight mother ship, flown to 50,000 feet and released. The rocket plane's engine then will ignite and propel the passengers into suborbit.

The spaceship is designed to climb to the edge of space, about 60 miles above the Earth's surface. At that suborbital altitude, people experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

Virgin Galactic’s sleek carrier aircraft and spaceships are made by the Spaceship Co. in Mojave, where the planes are currently undergoing test flights. Branson hopes to make its first passenger flight with his adult children, Sam and Holly, as soon as next year.

At the end of Monday’s event, the Branson trio --after rappelling down the side of the Spaceport’s massive glass windows -- named one of the ground terminals the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space.

The gateway will house preparation facilities for company’s passengers, which it calls astronauts. There is also a mission control center and an area for friends and family.

RELATED:

Virgin Galactic signs deal to give NASA rides into space

Firm completes spacecraft factory in Mojave

Virgin Galactic makes first feathered flight over Mojave [Video]

-- W.J. Hennigan

twitter.com/wjhenn

Photo: Dancers with Project Bandaloop, based in San Francisico, hang and dance on the side window wall of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space hangar in Las Cruces, N.M. Credit: Mark Greenberg / Virgin Galactic

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