Truth or Consequences, a great name for a town. The town was named after a popular 1950s radio quiz show.
New Mexico is the hub of commercial spaceflight activity, and it was an exciting time to visit here because the 2011-2013 period really marks the end of the NASA Space Shuttle era and the rise of the private sector spaceflight tourism industry. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and a number of other smaller commercial spaceflight startup companies will be operating out of this spaceport facility.
Spaceport America, where Virgin Galactic will start flying commercial suborbital spaceflights from late 2012/early 2013. All the investment has been in place for almost a decade, and test flights will wind up this year. This is really happening, and will be big news within about a year. Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo craft has six passenger seats, at $200,000 USD a seat. There will be several craft built in the SpaceShipTwo model class, the first will be called VSS Enterprise. The craft is connected to a carrier mothership aircraft to 60,000 feet, where it is released and then rocket engines carry it into space 110 km up (68 miles) for a few minutes of weightlessness. It then glides back to land at the spaceport.
The flights will be two hours end to end. There will be two crew and six passengers. One crew member will be the pilot, and the other to assist the six passengers while they are released from their seats and floating around the cabin weightless. There are future spaceports planned in places like Dubai, with the eventual result being rapid worldwide transit faster than the Concorde was, and almost as fast as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
Richard Branson offered Star Trek star William Shatner a free seat on the maiden voyage, he turned it down and said he would wait and see if the first group of people came back alive. There is talk about musicians Beyonce and Jay Z shooting a music video on board a flight in 2013. Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton has booked all six seats for a flight and paid $1.2 million.
Spaceport America, world’s first purpose built commercial spaceport, dedication video October 2011. Richard Branson abseils down building with champagne.
Computer animated rendering of what the flights will be like. 6mins long skip ahead to various points in the video if that is too long for you.
Video from me, from the tour I took, this shows runway and hangar building.
A competition between architectural firms was held, and you can see that the hangar itself smoothly blends into the New Mexico desert landscape.
The top balcony area where the family members of the well to do ticket holders will watch their loved ones take off and land. The facility includes training areas and a departure lounge.
Laser cut concrete spaceport runway. Will never have tour buses on it as of the end of this year, to avoid debris that could cause accidents.
Even the hangar doors, display a sense of style you would only find in a Virgin facility. Imagine if NASA’s facilities were this stylish.
This is the mission control building.
Very Large Array Radio Telescope
Nearby in this space hub area of New Mexico, is the Very Large Array, a series of 27 radio telescope dishes where research into the secrets of deep space is done. This is where the 1997 Jodie Foster film ‘Contact’ was also filmed. It has also been featured in other films, and on music album covers, including albums by musical groups Bon Jovi, Dire Straights and At The Drive-In.
Neaby was the first nuclear weapon test, the ‘Trinity’ test at White Sands, and also many nazi era German rocket engineers were brought to New Mexico to work on the Manhattan Project. So all in all, you could say New Mexico has a very storied history with high technology endeavours.