Virgin Galactic, the British company created by entrepreneur Richard Branson to send tourists into space, and New Mexico announced an agreement Tuesday for the state to build a $225 million spaceport. Virgin Galactic also revealed that up to 38,000 people from 126 countries have paid a deposit for a seat on one of its manned commercial flights, including a core group of 100 "founders" who have paid the initial $200,000 cost of a flight upfront. Virgin Galactic is planning to begin flights in late 2008 or early 2009.
New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said construction of the spaceport, to be built largely underground in the south of the state near the White Sands Missile Range, could begin in early 2007, depending on approval from environmental and aviation authorities.
Virgin will have a 20-year lease on the facility, with annual payments of $1 million for the first five years and rising to cover the cost of the project by the end of the lease.
"Experts predict that thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment will be created in the next 20 years as the private sector develops new commercial markets in the space industry in New Mexico," Homans said in London. "Virgin is the beginning and many other space companies will follow."
Virgin Galactic said it had chosen New Mexico as the site for its headquarters because of its steady climate, free airspace, low population density and high altitude. All those factors can significantly reduce the cost of the space flight program.
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Good for New Mexico. They're setting themselves up for a good industry if the rocket-barnstormers are really going to, erm, take off.