Spaceport America: Trips to space closer than you think
By Vincent Thomé
is an actual place. It is not the set of a science fiction movie or television show, although it could easily double as the backdrop for present-day Sci-Fi shows. Spaceport America belongs to New Mexico and serves as the home base to many U.S. commercial space flight and rocket launch programs.
Touring Spaceport America
Visitors to Spaceport today will be treated to a 3.5 hour tour of the surrounding area, the two-mile long runway, the Spaceport Operations Center, and a walk-through of the Virgin Galactic "Gateway to Space" Hangar Facility (note: as launch date approaches, specific tour components may change.) Regular tours are arranged through Follow the Sun Tours. Excursions meet in Truth or Consequences on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 9:00am and 1:00pm.
- General Admission Adults: $49.99 or $44.99 (Book in advance online and save 10%!)
- Youth (Under 18): $29.99
- Sierra and Dona Ana residents: $24.99
Advance booking is required and tours often sell out 2-3 weeks ahead. With advance planning, group tours leaving Albuquerque can also be arranged to occur any day of the week. Individuals who drive out on their own will not be allowed onto Spaceport property.
Visitor centers coming soon
The Spaceport Visitor Center in Truth or Consequences and the Spaceport America Visitor's Complex at the spaceport known as Spaceport Central are expected to open in 2015.
Where on Earth is Spaceport America?
Spaceport is located 180 miles south of Albuquerque
near Elephant Butte Lake, and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It is also located just west of the vast White Sands Missile Range, which is protected air space. No unauthorized commercial or private aircraft may fly over it. This protected air space provides the perfect window to launch space-bound vehicles and land commercial spacecraft on the adjacent runway, without interrupting normal commercial air traffic. Military aircraft from New Mexico’s three Air Force Bases: Holloman, Kirtland, and Cannon, use the White Sands Missile Range for flight-training purposes. The first atomic bomb was also detonated there in 1945 at Trinity Site.
After winning the Ansari XPrize
in 2004, Richard Branson was approached by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to become the anchor tenant of the new Spaceport. Construction began on the spaceport runway in August of 2009. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority broke ground on the large 110,000 sq. ft. Virgin Galactic
terminal hangar facility in March of 2010 and it is now complete. Commercial flights aboard Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo are expected to commence from Spaceport in 2015, after testing at their Mojave, CA flight facility is complete. Over 650 passengers have already booked their seats at over $200,000-$250,000 per flight, including many Hollywood celebrities. These Virgin astronauts will train for three to four days at Spaceport before their excursions, and their suborbital flights will last for two to three hours, with passengers experiencing zero gravity for 3-4 minutes.
SpaceX recently signed as the Spaceport’s newest tenant and they will soon begin testing their Falcon 9R—a reusable vertical launch and lander vehicle. UP Aerospace
and Armadillo Aerospace
have already conducted more than a dozen launches from Spaceport since 2006. In November 2013, a NASA SL-8 Flight Opportunities rocket marked the 20th rocket launch from the Spaceport America Vertical Launch Complex.
Other New Mexico Space Connections
In the 1930s New Mexico was a hotspot for early pioneers of modern rocketry, including Robert Goddard, Wernher von Braun, Col. John Stapp, and Capt. Joseph Kittinger. The New Mexico Museum of Space History and Space Hall of Fame
in Alamogordo, NM provides a detailed experience of New Mexico contributions to rocketry and space exploration.
The UFO Museum
in Roswell provides an overview of the incident with a UFO in 1947. Once it became public, the event known as The Roswell Incident, the crash of an alleged flying saucer, the recovery of debris and bodies, and the ensuing coverup by the military were of such magnitude and so shrouded in mystery that 60 years later there are still more questions than answers.