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Virgin Galactic signs lease pact for spaceport

Artist's concept of launch of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo launch vehicle. Spaceport America image

NEW YORK (BNS): Virgin Galactic has signed a historic 20-year lease agreement with the state of New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic would establish its world headquarters in New Mexico and operate from New Mexico's Spaceport America, the nation's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said that the signing of this agreement was a momentous day for the state and has cemented New Mexico as the home of commercial space travel. “I want to thank Virgin Galactic for partnering with us to create a whole new industry that is going to transform the economy of Southern New Mexico--creating thousands of jobs, generating money for education, boosting tourism and attracting other companies and economic opportunities in the area,” Richardson said.

The signing comes close on the heels after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a launch license to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. The lease agreement with an anchor tenant was the final requirement set by the New Mexico Legislature to release the next level of funding for Spaceport America and it has cleared the way for construction to begin soon, the officials said.

Spaceport America Executive Director Steven Landeene said that this was a historic moment for New Mexico, Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic. Many dedicated people have been working to secure this lease agreement, the director said. “Like several other companies, Virgin Galactic has realised the outstanding advantages offered by Spaceport America and the State of New Mexico,” Landeene said.

The signing of the lease agreement coincides with the beginning of the test-flying programme for Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo launch vehicle, which got underway in Mojave, California. The WhiteKnightTwo will serve as the mother ship for SpaceShipTwo, the vehicle that will carry commercial astronauts into sub-orbital space from Spaceport America.

Jonathan Firth, Virgin Galactic Projects and Operations Director, said that they were really looking forward to making Spaceport America and New Mexico the home and worldwide headquarters of Virgin Galactic. “The State has all the right elements for a successful commercial space operation including weather, clear airspace, beautiful scenery, great people and a fantastic location and design for Spaceport America,” Firth said.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority selected Gerald Martin Construction Management of Albuquerque to oversee construction of Spaceport America. The architectural firm of URS/Foster + Partners is completing their final design for the terminal and hangar facility. Construction is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2009 with the terminal and hangar facility scheduled for completion in 2010. Road construction to Spaceport America is already underway, sources said.

Southern New Mexico's Spaceport America is positioned to become the nation's leading commercial spaceport facility. There have been several commercial launches for various clients from the site since April 2007, with more launches planned. In addition to Virgin Galactic, the Spaceport Authority has been working closely with other leading aerospace firms such as Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing Inc/Armadillo Aerospace, UP Aerospace, Microgravity Enterprises and Payload Specialties, they said.

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