$7M spaceport runway extension OK'd

Mar 30, 2012 By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN , Associated Press
This Oct. 22, 2010, image shows Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two mothership on the runway at Spaceport America in Upham, N.M. The nearly two-mile-long runway at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico will have to be extended to accommodate Virgin Galactic's sleek rocket-powered spacecraft, spaceport officials confirmed Thursday March 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

(AP) -- The nearly two-mile-long runway at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico will have to be extended to accommodate Virgin Galactic's sleek rocket-powered spacecraft, spaceport officials confirmed Thursday.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority board members voted during a regular meeting Wednesday to extend the runway by another 2,000 feet. is the world's first terminal, hangar and runway built specifically for .

Virgin Galactic, which will be the spaceport's anchor tenant, determined through a battery of test flights and simulations that more room would be needed for landings under certain circumstances.

"It's really being done for safety," spaceport spokesman David Wilson said. "It was a guess until they started dropping it and simulating and doing different scenarios, how this thing was going to behave on the runway. This is all a product of the testing and the characteristics of the vehicle."

Backed by British billionaire , the commercial space line has been developing its craft and in California's . The company plans to begin moving into the hangar and terminal facility later this year, and the runway extension is not expected to cause delays.

The runway was dedicated by Branson and other officials in October 2010 with much fanfare.

Stretching across a flat dusty plain 45 miles north of Las Cruces, the runway is designed to support almost every aircraft in the world, day-to-day flights and payload launch operations. It is 42 inches thick and includes a 14-inch layer of concrete.

The extension will cost $7 million, Wilson said. Money will be reassigned within the spaceport's $209 million taxpayer-financed budget to absorb the cost of the change.

Designing the extension will take six to eight months.

Virgin Galactic has said rocket testing is continuing and commercial flights are at least a year away.

Wilson said the extension did not come as a surprise to spaceport board members. As part of the agreement Virgin Galactic had with New Mexico to build the spaceport, any technical changes that resulted from development of the spaceship technology would have to be accommodated by the state.

One scenario considered was if the rocket ship's engines did not fire. That would require the craft to glide back to the spaceport, loaded with unburned fuel. That would mean the craft would be heavier and would require more room to land.

Other factors involve New Mexico's altitude and high temperatures, which make the air thinner.

"That dictates longer runways," Wilson said.

Branson and Virgin Galactic officials have said repeatedly that everything possible will be done to ensure safety once begin.

Unlike experimental programs run by NASA, Wilson said America and Virgin Galactic are based on business models and investments.

"Obviously safety has to be at the highest level, especially when you're talking about commercial passenger service," he said.

Branson announced last week that had netted its 500th customer, actor Ashton Kutcher. Others include Hollywood types, international entrepreneurs, scientists and space buffs.

At $200,000 a ticket, the space tourists get a 2 1/2-hour flight with about five minutes of weightlessness and views of Earth that until now only astronauts have been able to experience.

Explore further: SpaceX making Easter delivery of station supplies (Update 2)

4.3 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Branson and NM officials dedicate space terminal (Update)

Oct 17, 2011

With his usual flair, British billionaire Richard Branson rappelled from a balcony, shook up a big bottle of champagne and took a swig while christening the world's first built-from-scratch commercial spaceport ...

New Mexico to be site of spaceport

Dec 13, 2005

Officials from the London-based Virgin Galactic and New Mexico say they've signed an agreement to build a $200 million spaceport.

NM spaceport sets stage for commercial space race

Oct 28, 2010

(AP) -- British tycoon Richard Branson has dreamed of going to space since he was a teenager. He'll get his wish when Virgin Galactic begins taking tourists into suborbital space from a specially designed ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

4 hours ago

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

Apr 18, 2014

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rwinners
not rated yet Mar 31, 2012
Wow. A 2.5 hour trip and only 5 minutes of weightlessness? That means a long,slow (anxiety ridden) ride to separation point and then a highly interesting and rapid assent/decent.

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.