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World’s first spaceport opens

World’s first spaceport opens

Space tourism for the masses has taken another step closer to reality with the opening of the world’s first commercial spaceport in New Mexico, USA.

Spaceport America is the world’s first facility designed specifically to launch commercial spacecraft, and will be used by Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company set up by Sir Richard Branson.

The first commercial flights from the spaceport are expected to take place within the next 18 months.

The opening of the facility, which includes a 3 km runway, comes less than two weeks after Virgin Galactic completed the first solo flight of SpaceShip Two, the spacecraft it plans to use to take tourists to the edge of space.

The event was marked with a fly-past of an aircraft carrying SpaceShip Two.

Sir Richard explained his plans for the project.

He said: “Today is very personal, as our dream becomes more real. People are beginning to believe now.”

“I think the drop flight two weeks ago, which went beautifully, I think it made people sit up and realise this is really reality.”

The new runway is designed to support almost every aircraft in the world, day-to-day space tourism and payload launch operations.

Virgin Galactic plans to use the facility to take tourists on what will first be short trips into space.

“Each flight we make, we’ll learn more, we’ll experience, we’ll open up more opportunities that we cannot even conceive of today,” Branson said. “This history, we’re making it right now.”

State officials want to add companies for other commercial space endeavours, such as research and payload delivery.

Tickets for suborbital space rides aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $200,000. The 150-minute flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness.

Some 380 people have made deposits totalling more than $50 million, Virgin Galactic officials said. These include former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969 as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission.

Last month, Congress approved legislation that sets out President Barack Obama’s intent to use commercial carriers to lift humans into near-Earth space.