Spaceport America Runway Dedicated, Oct. 22, 2010

Virgin has unveiled the world's first commercial spaceway, a runway for space craft in the Mojave desert of New Mexico.

The nearly two-mile long runway at Spaceport America was dedicated to New Mexico's Govenor Bill Richardson and will be primarily used by Virgin Galactic to launch commercial customers into space.

The Mojave facility in Upham, New Mexico is the historic site where Burt Rutan's White Knight and SpaceShipOne captured the $10 million X Prize for private space flight in 2004.

I met the SpaceShipOne Team a few months after they won the Ansari X Prize for reaching outer space (100 kilometers) in a privately financed, reusable passenger space craft. Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen picked up the estimated $25 million "Tier One Project" costs.

The team told an audience of young pilots at a flight school in Florida that commercial space travel at the Mojave facility would soon become a reality through Virgin Galactic, an extension of the UK's Virgin Group, owned by flight enthusiast Sir. Richard Branson.

Test pilot Mike Melvill is photographed atop SpaceShipOne after his Sept. 29, 2004 flight into space. Burt Rutan's company, Scaled Composite designed and developed the aircraft, dubbed "White Knight" that carried SpaceShipOne into outer space. White Knight also carried SpaceShipOne to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. in 2005, where it is permanently on exhibit.

All of the historic flights were made at the Mojave Airport Civil Aviation Test Center in New Mexico, which reclassified itself as the part-time Mojave Spaceport.

On October 22, 2010, Sir Richard Branson and about 30 of the 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts attended the Spaceport America Runway dedication, along with guests from around the world who hope to be on board future flights. They watched a flyover and landing by Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo, in a captive carry with SpaceShipTwo.

The 42-inch thick spaceway is designed to support nearly every type of aircraft in the world today. It consists of 24 inches of prepared sub-grade followed by four inches of asphalt and finished with a 14-inch layer of concrete. The spaceway will accommodate returning launch vehicles, fly-back rocket boosters and other space launch and training vehicles.

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport,” said Governor Richardson. “New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico. Today marks a significant milestone on our historic and exciting journey.”

Meanwhile Sir Richard Branson commented: “It is incredible to be here today with Governor Richardson and be part of the runway dedication at Spaceport America. To see for myself how far the construction has come from when I last visited New Mexico is truly inspiring – I for one can’t wait for the grand opening – today has brought it one step closer to reality for me.”

Guests also toured the terminal hangar facility which is nearing completion. The building will serve as the operational hub for Virgin Galactic and is expected to house up to two WhiteKnightTwos and five SpaceShipTwos in addition to all of Virgin’s astronaut preparation facilities and mission control centre.

Governor Richardson and Sir Richard Branson placed their handprints in clay to commemorate the day. The spaceport will be fully operational in 2011. Source:

The New Mexico spaceport may be the first of many around the country.
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