December 9, 2005

Branson Chooses New Mexico for Space Launch

LOS ANGELES -- British entrepreneur Richard Branson has chosen New Mexico for the launch pad of his planned space tourism flights, state officials said on Thursday.

Details of the agreement are scheduled to be unveiled in New Mexico on December 14 when Branson will fly in for a news conference, Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said.

"We are very excited to announce our partnership with Virgin Galactic next week. It has been a dream in New Mexico for 15 years to build a spaceport and Richard Branson has a dream to take people into space and together we will make that happen," he said.

Branson's Virgin Galactic, the first company to develop commercial flights to space, expects to launch its first space flight in 2008.

The Virgin Group chairman has a deal with the private SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan to build five spacecraft to take passengers on trips into space for $200,000 each.

New Mexico, with its high altitude, sunny climate and low population, has been pushing hard to make a name for itself as a center of space commercialization.

Dry weather reduces the possibility of corrosion and the high altitude makes reusable launch vehicles more cost-efficient in terms of the fuel needed to reach space.

A spaceport is in advanced planning stages on land north of La Cruces city, and private British space technology company Starchaser Industries has already decided to make the area its launch base.

Virgin Galactic will start limited operations in the Mojave Desert in California and will move its launch pad to New Mexico when the spaceport is complete, Homans said.

"We anticipate this is just the beginning. We are staking our claim to being the nest that will launch this industry," Homans said.