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UPHAM, NM-After more than a decade of talk, permitting and planning, construction will launch on Spaceport America’s first permanent terminal and runways. Virgin Galactic, a subsidiary of London-based Virgin Group Ltd., and Spaceport America Authority will break ground in early 2009 on a 103,000-sf terminal and accompanying hangers and runways at the $198-million, 18,000-acre project.

Located on state-owned land about 45 miles north of Las Cruces, NM and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences, NM, Spaceport America will be the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. The terminal, hangars and runways should be completed by late 2010, and will be leased to Virgin Galactic for launch of commercial space missions. The project will be built on approximately 770 acres, with the remaining land used as a buffer zone.

A spokesman for Spaceport America says the Virgin Galactic terminal is the project’s second phase. The first phase, already underway, consists of infrastructure development such as roads, utilities and sewers. “They’re currently paving an 8.5-mile road from Interstate 25, to facilitate construction of the spaceport,” the spokesman says. Meanwhile, a construction manager is being sought for the project. “They’ll bid out the actual construction after they select the project manager,” the spokesman says.

To date, Virgin Galactic is the only company operating at Spaceport America, though Rocket Racing League, Starchaser Industries, UP Aerospace and the X Prize Cup are also interested in on-site headquarters. UP Aerospace has already launched rockets in the area in 2006 and 2007, using a temporary facility in the Spaceport area developed in 2006.

Plans for a commercial spaceport were bounced around in the early 1990s and the 18,000 acres of state-owned land was targeted for the inland facility. The land had a few benefits to offer.

For one thing, the area air space is restricted, due to its proximity to Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Second, the weather is sunny most of the year. Third, the area has a low population density. Finally, because the area is 4,700 feet above sea level, rockets don’t have as far to travel vertically, meaning they can be built smaller.

“It would be hard to replicate anything like this in one location,” the spokesman tells GlobeSt.com. “We’re providing a low-cost access to space with this project.”

URS/Foster + Partners in London is the architect. Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall in Los Angeles is also providing architecture and engineering services for the project. New Mexico design consultants are Dekker/Perich/Sabatini and Molzen-Corbin & Associates, both in Albuquerque.

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