Branson was joined by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and scores of would-be space travelers at the Virgin Galactic Gateway for the dedication.
It had been nearly a year since the businessman was here to celebrate the completion of the runway. “The building is absolutely magnificent,” he said. “It is literally out of this world, and that’s what we were aiming at creating.”
The 120,000 square-foot building, built at a cost of $209 million, meets LEED Gold standards for environmental quality. It was designed by United Kingdom-based Foster + Partners, along with URS Corporation and local New Mexico architects SMPC. The facility was built using local materials and regional construction techniques, its range of sustainable features include geothermal heating and cooling.
The SpacePort, a combined terminal and hangar facility, will support up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles. In addition, The Gateway will house all of the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends and family area. There is also space committed to public access via the planned New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s Visitor Experience.
Commercial service will start-up after the company gets a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. NASA has already signed a $4.5m contract with the company for up to three chartered research flights. Passenger tickets will cost $200,000 each; more than 450 people have already purchased tickets to fly with Virgin Galactic. The two and a half-hour sub-orbital flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness and views of Earth that only astronauts have been able to experience.
Sir Richard said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months. He and his two children, Sam and Holly, will be the first commercial passengers on the SpaceShipTwo.