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Ready for lift-off: Virgin Galactic unveils the world’s first commercial spaceport

With the realisation of commercial space travel almost here, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is gearing up for lift-off with the first-ever commercial spaceport in the world. As early as next year, the mega-rich can prepare to board the first suborbital space flights, lifting off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Branson himself expects to be on the first test flight launching later this year).

Brought to life by prestigious design and engineering firm Foster + Partners — which won a competition back in 2007 for this project — Virgin Galactic’s ‘Gateway to Space’ is the world’s first purpose-built space terminal. It’ll combine the passenger terminal with a hangar facility for the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles, both destined to take to the skies and beyond when test flights begin in 2020.

(Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Branson’s Gateway to Space has been a long time coming. While it was structurally completed in 2011, delays in the space programme led to the building being mostly empty. The interior has now  been finally completed, complete with retro- futuristic furniture that harken back to the 1950s, and wood-lined walls that lend a light, airy feel to the building.

(Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

As with most Foster + Partners projects, the architecture of the building takes advantage of its natural environment in the New Mexico Desert. Designed to be LEED Gold accredited, Gateway to Space is dug into the desert on one side, with an awe-inspiring entrance that allows it to take advantage of the thermal mass while also acting as a buffer to its often harsh environment. Skylights are also a natural fit with the strong desert sun providing plenty of daylight, while vents allow for westerly winds to ventilate the building. 

As much as it looks otherworldly, Foster + Partners made sure to make it as sustainable as possible, using local materials and ensuring local building techniques were implemented.

Yet the biggest question is how many people are going to be calm enough to stomach a cappuccino at its Barista Island on the building’s Gaia floor, before being rocketed past the earth’s atmosphere and into a weightless environment in space. The Spaceport will see restaurants and cafes within that will perhaps cater better to those awaiting their loved ones’ return.

Looking out onto the desert and the San Andres mountains in the distance, one gets a sense that they could already be on another planet — perhaps even a spaceport on Mars. The hangar adds to the sense of occasion, with its massive doors opening up to reveal room for multiple aircraft and spaceships.

(Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Most importantly, the Spaceport is approved by Virgin Galactic’s’ pilots, including Mike “Sooch” Masucci, who has already endorsed the layout of the Cirrus level. Here, large windows flank one side of the building to provide a panoramic view of the runway. “It keeps us motivated, but more importantly, keeps our heartbeat on what’s going on outside,” he said

Unlike a regular airport, guests will spend several days training at the facility before their journey to space. If you want to hop on a ride onboard SpaceShipTwo, you’ll need to cough up a whopping US$250,000 (S$347,000), though that is by far the cheapest way to head into space.  In comparison, rented seats on board a Soyuz rocket in the past would have cost millions. 

(Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic was previously based in the Mojave Desert, but this full move — both the headquarters’ and team’s — signal the final countdown to launch. Flights are slated to start before the end of the year, with Branson himself being one of the first passengers on the maiden voyage.



This article was originally published on Lifestyle Asia Singapore

Ready for lift-off: Virgin Galactic unveils the world’s first commercial spaceport

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