Virgin Galactic, the stepchild of Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, has started hiring astronauts in anticipation of kicking off their commercial spaceflight business at Spaceport America later this year.
Construction on passenger terminal buildings, spacecraft hangars and launch facilities are already well under way with the official opening of the spaceport still on track for end of 2011. In 2008, Governor Bill Richardson announced that Virgin Galactic had signed a 20 year lease agreement with the State of New Mexico. Virgin Galactic’s world headquarters will be established in New Mexico and its operations will be located at New Mexico’s Spaceport America, the nation’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.
“The signing of this agreement is a momentous day for our state and has cemented New Mexico as the home of commercial space travel,” Governor Bill Richardson said. “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 to the area.”
The signing of the lease agreement comes just days 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 in early 2009.
“We are really looking forward to making Spaceport America and New Mexico the home and worldwide headquarters of Virgin Galactic,” said Jonathan Firth, Virgin Galactic Projects & Operations Director. “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.”
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.
This post excerpted in part from Spaceport America’s website: News/December 2008