Dec 20, 2008

Tech - US gives green light for first commercial spaceport

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Federal Aviation Administration has given the green light for the world's first commercial spaceport, New Mexico authorities said Thursday.

The FAA granted Spaceport America a license for vertical and horizontal space launches following an environmental impact study, according to the New Mexico Space Authority (NMSA).

"These two governmental approvals are the next steps along the road to a fully operational commercial spaceport," said NMSA Executive Director Steven Landeene.

"We are on track to begin construction in the first quarter of 2009, and have our facility completed as quickly as possible."

The terminal and hangar facility for horizontal launches is planned for completion by late 2010.

NMSA hopes to sign a lease agreement later this month with Virgin Galactic, a branch of Virgin Atlantic owned by British airline magnate Richard Branson. The firm's SpaceShipTwo passenger craft will be the main attraction at the site.

The system plans to take passengers approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) into the sky. Virgin Galactic plans to welcome 500 passengers per year who will pay 200,000 dollars each for a suborbital flight lasting three to four minutes.

There have been several commercial launches from the site since April 2007, with more launches planned.

Spaceport America has also been working closely with aerospace firms Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing Inc./Armadillo Aerospace, UP Aerospace, Microgravity Enterprises and Payload Specialties.

The Russian federal space agency currently offers the only orbital space tourism flights aboard the Soyuz spacecraft, which allows passengers to visit the International Space Station (ISS) for several days. The price for the trip recently increased from 20 million dollars to 35 million dollars.

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