An artist's concept shows a view of the new spaceport under construction in New Mexico. The pricey port will help space tourism efforts commence in earnest.  (Source: URS/Foster + Partners)

Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two composite aircraft flew over the port during the construction commencement ceremonies. The White Knight will take off from the port and help to sling a spacecraft containing Virgin Galactic's space tourists into orbit.  (Source: Barb Sprungman)
Spaceport America is expected to begin sending tourists into space next year aboard Virgin Galactic flights

The Spaceport America location in New Mexico is now officially under construction, with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on hand at the event to discuss how historic space tourism launches from New Mexico will be for the state.

"New Mexicans have stepped up to the plate by making this investment," Richardson said during the press conference.  "This groundbreaking ceremony is an important step toward our goal of being at the forefront of a vibrant, new commercial space industry."

The new port will be the nation's first commercial spaceport. Earlier this year the port received FAA approval.  The state is fronting the bill for the $200 million project, which will give the state a boost via engineering and other high-value jobs will be available at the facility once it finishes construction. 

Virgin Galactic is expected to begin launching tourists into space from the spaceport in 2010, as more than 45,000 people have registered to take a trip from New Mexico.  The Spaceport America web site each person will have to pay $200,000 per trip to go up to 50,000 feet into the air before accelerating into space.

Specifically, spacecraft will lift off from a 10,000-foot runway, fly up to 50,000 feet, break free and fly up to 62 miles in total height.  Each trip will take around two hours with five minutes of weightlessness.

Virgin hopes to have one flight per week, with up to six paying space tourists on each trip.  Unlike two-week stays aboard the International Space Station (ISS), just three days of training is necessary before someone is able to fly on a Virgin flight into space.

There is growing demand both for suborbital flights and longer trips to the ISS, depending on how much money and the amount of training a person wishes to go through.  A flight to the ISS costs around $30 million and involves months of training, though these Virgin flights cost significantly less and take a couple of days of training -- but visitors obviously don't reach an altitude that high.

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