$7M spaceport runway extension OK'd

March 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: NASA books 1st flight from New Mexico spaceport

0 shares

Related Stories

Branson and NM officials dedicate space terminal (Update)

October 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 on Monday.

New Mexico to be site of spaceport

December 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

October 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 spaceport in the ...

Recommended for you

Mars rover Opportunity on walkabout near rim

June 23, 2017

NASA's senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is examining rocks at the edge of Endeavour Crater for signs that they may have been either transported by a flood or eroded in place by wind.

CHESS mission will check out the space between stars

June 23, 2017

Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, ...

Dutch astronomers discover recipe to make cosmic glycerol

June 23, 2017

A team of laboratory astrophysicists from Leiden University (the Netherlands) managed to make glycerol under conditions comparable to those in dark interstellar clouds. They allowed carbon monoxide ice to react with hydrogen ...

Scientists uncover origins of the Sun's swirling spicules

June 22, 2017

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild jets of solar material burst from the sun's surface. They erupt as fast as 60 miles per second, and can reach lengths of 6,000 miles before collapsing. These are spicules, and ...

1 comment

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.