As WhiteKnightTwo, the space vehicle designed by Scaled Composites, flew overhead on Monday, Sir Richard Branson celebrated the construction of a new spaceport facility in New Mexico that will support Virgin Galactic's space-tourism business. The 110,000-square-foot Gateway to Space building will serve as a combined operations terminal and hangar, with room to store two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles. The soaring steel-and-glass building also will be used for astronaut training, mission control, and facilities for friends and families of space travelers. A public visitor area also is planned.
The $32.5 million building was paid for by the state of New Mexico. At Monday's event, a handful of protestors held signs outside the gate, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. Some were concerned about the use of local water for the construction, and one held a sign reading "Occupy Spaceport." Development at the site began about six years ago, and last year a 10,000-foot runway was completed. More than 450 space tourists already have bought tickets to fly with Virgin. NASA also has chartered the system for up to three research flights, at $4.5 million. Space flights are expected to start in 2013.