A unique business requires a very special home and Virgin Galactic will have just that at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Back in 2005, Virgin Galactic and the State of New Mexico announced that they had reached an historic agreement which would see the building of a state funded $200m spaceport on a 27 square mile area of land in the southern part of the New Mexico "the Land of Enchantment".
Virgin Galactic will establish its headquarters and operate its space flights from Spaceport America, the world's first purpose built commercial spaceport which is now under construction. Spaceport America will provide cutting edge facilities and a wonderful location for fledgling astronauts to realise their dreams. Construction is now well under way and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) recently dedicated the newly completed nearly two-mile long "Governor Bill Richardson Spaceway" at Spaceport America, representing significant progress towards launching commercial customers into space from the desert of New Mexico.
The facility has been designed by world renowned, UK based Foster + Partners who won an international competition to build the first private spaceport in the world.
The sinuous shape of the building in the landscape and its interior spaces seek to capture the drama and mystery of space flight itself, articulating the thrill of space travel for the first space tourists. Making a minimal impact on the environment, the scheme will be the first facility of its kind and a model for the future.
The Spaceport lies low within the desert-like landscape of the site in New Mexico and seen from the historic El Camino Real trail, the organic form of the terminal resembles a rise in the landscape. Using local materials and regional construction techniques, it is both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings.
Organized into a highly efficient and rational plan, the Spaceport has been designed to relate to the dimensions of the spacecraft. There is also a careful balance between accessibility and privacy. The astronauts' areas and visitor spaces are fully integrated with the rest of the building to convey the thrill of space travel. The more sensitive zones - such as the control room - are visible, but have limited access.
Visitors and astronauts enter the building via a deep channel cut into the landscape. The retaining walls form an exhibition space that documents the history of the region and its settlers, alongside a history of space exploration. The strong linear axis continues on a
galleried level to the 'superhangar' - which houses the spacecraft - through to the terminal building.
Designed to have minimal embodied carbon and few additional energy requirements, the scheme has been designed to achieve the prestigious LEED Gold accreditation. The low-lying form is dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass, which buffers the building from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation. Natural light enters via skylights, with a glazed façade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway.