Out of this world

24 Oct 2011

Sir Richard Branson unveils Foster-designed Gateway to Space in New Mexico

A new era has arrived; one where our annual vacations to St Lucia or the Swiss Alps will no longer suffice, and plane journeys between countries will seem a walk in the park. Last week commercial mastermind Sir Richard Branson celebrated the dedication of his latest innovative scheme - Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, the world’s first commercial space line.

Designed by Foster + Partners with URS Corporation and local architects SMPC, the New Mexico project is breaking new ground in architecture, education and research circles, pushing the boundaries of commercial building design.

Last Monday over 800 guests gathered at the 120,000 sq ft Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space to rejoice with Branson as scarlet-clad aerial dancers scaled the building to perform a contemporary performance in celebration of the revolutionary centre. More than 150 of these visitors had already paid a hefty deposit securing their seats for the first round of commercial spaceflights.

Inserted deep into the desert landscape to exploit thermal mass, Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space will welcome public visitors through a sunken channel into a New Mexico Spaceport Authority Visitor Experience where the buildings retaining walls will display a permanent exhibition documenting the history of space exploration.

The complex has been designed to meet LEED Gold requirements and comprises astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control centre, friends and family area, and a hanger facility capable of housing two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles - both of which gave flight demonstrations at the dedication ceremony.

Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico commented: “New Mexico has a long tradition of pioneering innovation in aerospace and related technologies. Spaceport America and the opening of Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space significantly deepen those capabilities and strengthen our global position as a powerhouse supporter of space industry.”

Private punters are not the only ones to benefit from Branson’s novel new venture however. Virgin Galactic have just announced a contract with NASA’s Flight Opportunity Program for research flights with a potential value of $4.5m and links forged with Purdue University, Space Florida, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, and Southwest Research Institute in an effort to inspire students with ongoing space research initiatives.

Work will now begin on the internal fit-out following last week’s handover to the client, with the building due to be fully functional in the next 12-18 months. Book you seat on one of Branson’s space flights here and view a clip of the SpaceShipTwo’s first feather flight in Mojave below.

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