For those of you who have never been here, New Mexico has a LOT of open space. Just miles and miles of empty space
That’s just one reason some Brit from across the pond, ok, to be fair, it was SIR (I believe he’s been knighted) Richard Branson, decided to locate his Virgin Galactic operation in south eastern New Mexico, about 45 minutes outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Yes, thats really a place!
So with private funding and some incentives from the state of New Mexico, Sir Richard Branson built SpacePort America.
We drove down to Truth or Consequences and spent the night at the Elephant Butte Inn so we would be fresh for our tour of SpacePort America. We boarded the bus with another couple and a college student and George, our tour guide/driver.
George is a wealth of information on both the history of the area going back some 300 years and also the history and facts of SpacePort America. It was a beautiful day as we headed out past Elephant Butte Lake,
and out toward the SpacePort America.
George told us all about the Spanish soldiers who traveled through the area and settled parts of the country. After 45 minutes we arrived at the front gate of SpacePort America.
While we were waiting at the guard shack, we saw a hawk sitting on a fence looking for lunch.
Once we were cleared through security, we went over to the SOC, or Space Operations Center.
This building houses Virgin Galactic offices, fire and safety equipment and personal, and also serves as “mission control” for space flights.
The fire and crash safety equipment is all state of the art, and the men and women who operate the equipment are all highly trained.
One interesting aspect of the SOC building is the entire outer shell of the building is covered with ceramic tiles. The building was created by inflating a special membrane into a dome and then spraying a compound on it so it would retain the dome shape. The openings were cut into the shell and it was then covered with tiles. There is no grout between the tiles so the tiles have a bit of room to “breath” with the heat of the New Mexico desert.
The windows in the picture above are where “mission control” is located. Those windows have a perfect view of the runway/launch area
One of the duties of the security people, is keeping the area safe. That includes from snakes. We found evidence of that right outside the SOC.
From the SOC building, we were driven out on to the runway, or as they like to call it, the spaceway. Almost 3 miles of specially prepared concrete surface.
Before our vehicles went onto the spaceway, the security guard went around our bus and picked all the rocks out of the tire treads. This spaceway will have to be kept clean because the last thing you want is to suck a rock or weed into a rocket motor on take off.
George, our driver/guide said it was really hard to not see how fast our bus would go out there but the fine folks at Virgin Galactic have said they didn’t really think racing on the spaceway was a good idea. So we slowly made our way over to the main hanger.
The main hanger is a engineering marvel because of the way its built. It is built partially into the ground with 6 air intakes on each side.
The hot air during the summer is sucked into the air intake and cooled by the ground to about 80 degrees and then filtered through the A/C units. Cold air in the winter is sucked in and heated by the ground to 40 degrees and then used by the heaters. This helps the A/C heater units to not work as hard, saving money and energy.
This main hanger is also a “drive through” style hanger. Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnight 2 will be able to enter one side of the main hanger,
service will be done, Spaceship Two will be hung below WhiteKnight’s wing, passengers boarded and the ready to fly craft will exit the hanger from the other side.
Also on display is a full size model of Spaceship Two…
This is a mock up of the actual vehicle that will take 6 paying passengers and 2 crew to the edge of space.
This vehicle will be taken aloft by WhiteKnight Two and then after release, fire a rocket to continue into space. It will glide powerless back down to earth and SpacePort America. The whole trip is expected to last about 3 and a half hours. There is also 3 to 5 days worth of “training” before the space flight. An interesting fact. The front nose gear of Spaceship Two has a skid plate instead of a front nose wheel.
This skid plate will help slow the vehicle down once it touches the spaceway. Another note, the windows on Spaceship Two will not be held in with duct tape. The model shown in these pictures has no rocket engine in the back of it. The sometimes fierce winds that blow in the New Mexico desert, blew through the model and blew the windows out. That will NOT be a problem on the real Spaceship Two.
So, when you arrive for YOUR flight into space, at a cost of $250,000.00, your limo will pull up to the entry point of the main hanger…
You will walk up into the main hanger, starting your “ascent into space”
As for us, we ascend onto our bus…
and head back to our starting point of Truth or Consequences New Mexico. Then it was time for a dip in the hot springs at Riverbend Hot Springs.
Next stop, South Padre Island, Texas!!!