Upham, N.M. A multimillion-dollar spaceport is moving toward construction in the New Mexico desert, a big step for commercial space development and tourists who will suit up for $200,000 suborbital flights.
Gov. Bill Richardson and other dignitaries staged a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday at the remote site of Spaceport America in Sierra County.
“Today will be a signal that America needs to regain its leadership in space, both in national space and commercial space,” Richardson said. “Today is historic because New Mexico leads the nation in commercial space.”
From a 10,000-foot runway, spacecraft will take flight attached to an airplane, then break free and rocket 62 miles into space before returning to the New Mexico site. Flights will last about two hours and include five minutes of weightlessness.
George Nield, a Federal Aviation Administration official who oversees commercial space transportation, said seven spaceport licenses have been issued in the U.S.
California has two licenses while New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Alaska and Oklahoma each have one.
Richardson said the New Mexico site — about 45 miles north of Las Cruces — is ahead, largely because of a partnership with Virgin Galactic, a British company that plans to take the tourists into space.
Virgin Galactic officials said Friday that 300 customers have made down payments to get launched into space. The company aims to begin taking tourists into space by December 2010.