On 31 December 2008 the New Mexico government signed a 20-year lease agreement with Virgin Galactic. The agreement enabled the final release of state funds for Spaceport America's construction, a project with an estimated cost of $225 million.
The lease ensures that Virgin Galactic's world headquarters will be in the southern US state and it is one of four spaceports the spaceline plans to use.
The New Mexico lease signing followed the awarding of the spaceport's launch licence by the US Federal Aviation Administration for vertical launches. But a separate licence is needed for ascents using a runway, which Virgin Galactic needs. In the nearer term, the spaceport's ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for June. A hangar and terminal building should be completed next year, but companies already operating at the site include Lockheed Martin and UP Aerospace.
© Virgin Galactic
New Mexico's $225 million Spaceport America is to break ground in June
The other two spaceports Virgin Galactic will use are California's Mojave air and spaceport, where Scaled Composites is developing the spaceline's two vehicles, SpaceShip Two and WhiteKnight Two, and Spaceport Sweden. Mojave is where SS2 will fly into space for its test campaign, but the spaceport's original 2004 five-year launch licence was for a limited number of launches to accommodate SpaceShipOne's X Prize campaign. Mojave submitted its application to renew that five-year licence on 13 March and is expecting it to be approved by 17 June, the date the original licence expires. The new licence application gave a specific number of SS2 test flights, but Mojave's operations manager, Bob Rice told Flight International: "I can not disclose the number."
Mojave and Spaceport America are members of the Personal Spaceflight Federation that is lobbying the US Congress for funding for the space transport infrastructure matching grants programme, created by Congress in the 1990s but never funded. The programme would provide infrastructure assistance that airports already get.
Aping New Mexico's national ambitions, Spaceport Sweden is based at Swedish Space's Esrange Space Centre near the country's northern most town of Kiruna.
A sounding rocket launch site, like New Mexico Kiruna is sparsely populated and local government sees space tourism as a new source of revenue. Last month a Spaceport Sweden official predicted Virgin Galactic flights from 2012. Virgin Galactic's other spaceport hope is RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. Whitehorn wants to operate from his native country: "You would see a really good Britain from there and see Norway."