New Mexico and Texas are becoming home to "spaceports" that will offer trips into outer space to the general public. New Mexico has a long history in the space industry. Their involvement includes the pioneering rocketry work of Robert J. Goddard in 1930, and NASA programs at the White Sands Missile Range. With the backing of Virgin Galactic, a Sir Richard Branson venture to make low cost commercial space access a reality, the latest project is blasting off.Voters in two counties in New Mexico approved a local tax increase, to be added to state monies, for funding the construction of Spaceport America in their area. They foresee the $198 million project bringing high tech jobs to the state, and educational programs to their children. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held June 19, 2009.
 
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said. “New Mexicans have stepped up to the plate by making this investment. This groundbreaking ceremony is an important step toward our goal of being at the forefront of a vibrant new, commercial space industry.”Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn proclaimed that "The groundbreaking is an enormous milestone for Virgin Galactic which is investing over $300 million in developing a new space launch system which will operate at Spaceport America after it opens." Virgin Galactic will be the anchor tenant, a strange designation for a company that plans to fly people into space. The price tag on a ticket to ride is $200,000, with hundreds on the waiting list.

Spaceport America, the dream coming true for millions of people who dream about flying into space. Count the whole BSN* team in. ;)
Spaceport America, the dream coming true for millions of people who dream about flying into space. Count the whole BSN* team in. ;)

The operation of the spaceport will not be unlike other commercial airports, with the facilities being leased to private companies. Bids were being asked for in May. One of the first contracts given out is for the construction of a runway, 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. The state broke bids for the project down into several chunks, such as fencing, fuel storage, and facilities for emergency responders, to give smaller companies a chance. Larger portions were awarded by international bid. Foster + Partners of the UK has extensive experience designing airport buildings. They, along with URS Corporation, one of the world’s largest design and engineering firms, won the bid for the design of the hanger facility. Spaceport America’s terminal hanger will honor Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s executive order for state buildings, and will be built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] rating system. The sustainable environmental design for the spaceport includes thermal solar panels, air treatments, and under floor radiative cooling and heating.

We wonder where are they going to put TSA in?
We wonder where are they going to put TSA in?

In 2005, the site of the proposed spaceport hosted a firing of model rockets by Branson and 5th graders from a Las Cruces elementary school. The spaceport was also used to launch a rocket in 2007 which carried the ashes of actor James Doohan, better known as Scotty, the chief engineer on the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek. Culberson County, Texas is home to an earlier facility also directed at commercial space travelers. In howstuff works, we are told that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, and the man behind Blue Origin is proceeding with his project quietly. Little has publicized about his plans to send tourists (around three at a time) on routine suborbital space trips. In November, 2006, he launched his first Goddard test rocket, fueled by hydrogen peroxide and kerosene. No mention was made of how this met the FAA’s Environmental Assessment for the Blue Origin West Texas commercial launch site which determined that "conformity to the Clean Air Act is not required. The air quality in Culberson County can be generally considered as unimpaired." It remains to be seen if it remains so after Bezos’ rocket launches.

In December, 2008, we learned that plans for a "New Shepard" vehicle consisted of a pressurized crew module that would carry experiments and astronauts. It would be carried atop a propulsion module that would take off take-off vertically, accelerating for a little under three minutes, before shutting off its rocket engines to coast into space. Blue Origin’s engineering and manufacturing teams work from their home office in Kent, Washington, south of Seattle. Always looking for qualified individuals to join their team, they warn: "You must have a genuine passion for space. Without passion, you will find what we’re trying to do too difficult." Other than a few other comments and some images, the Blue Origin website is as guarded as ever, with the latest “update” being in January, 2007. It appears that Spaceport America, located near a New Mexico town named Truth or Consequences, is much more intent upon keeping the public informed.