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  Intergalactic Construction Project
A new milestone was reached in Virgin Galactic's commercial space flight venture with construction scheduled to start on 16th November on the production facility that will build its spacecraft.

From Earthly Beginnings...

The venture started in earnest back in 2005 with the formation of the The Spaceship Company, a joint venture that is jointly owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Scaled Composites. This latter company was set up by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and created the technology for the world's first fleet of commercial spaceships and launch aircraft.

Virgin Galactic's initial plan is to provide sub-orbital flights to the paying public (the 3.5-hour flight will set you back $200,000). So far, over 380 people are reported to have signed up and paid a deposit of $20,000. Once the passenger carrying side of the business is established, the plan is to progress to running sub-orbital science missions and to provide launch services for small satellites. Further ahead, the hope is that orbital space flights can be made available.

Passenger flights will be on board SpaceShipTwo, which is able to carry six passengers and two pilots. The spacecraft will be mounted on the wings of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, which has two fuselages and resembles a giant flying catamaran. The carrier will fly the two of them up to an altitude of 50,000 feet. At this point, SpaceShipTwo is released and fires its rockets, with the carrier plane returning to earth.

The spacecraft then climbs to about sixty miles above the earth's surface, on the edge of space where the passengers will see the curvature of the earth and experience weightlessness for around six minutes. During this period, passengers will be allowed to release their seat belts and float around the cabin before they return to earth. SpaceShipTwo wil fold its wings in as it re-enters the earth's atmosphere and then extends them fully again for the unpowered descent back to the runway.

Construction Staff With Previous Spaceport Experience Wanted...

The takeoff and landing site is Spaceport America, the world's first commercial spaceport. This is a state funded $200 million development set on a 27 square mile area in New Mexico. It features a two-mile long runway and a futuristic building that incorporates all hangar, terminal and office facilities. The building was designed by UK-based Foster + Partners, the firm winning an international competition to undertake the project. The shape of the building is intended to suggest the drama and mystery of space flight while its sweeping lines blend into the environment with minimal impact.

All areas of the building are fully integrated to encourage a feeling of excitement, although with controlled access to secure areas. Entrance to the building is through a channel cut into the landscape. There is an exhibition space that covers both the history of the local area and of space exploration. A galleried level continues to the hangar that houses the spacecraft and then on to the terminal.

The building has been designed to achieve LEED gold accreditation, which is next to the highest level for building sustainability, with a minimum of embodied carbon and few additional energy needs. It is set deep into the landscape so that it exploits the thermal mass and is positioned to take advantage of the westerly wind for ventilation. Natural light comes in through skylights and the terminal building also has a glazed façade that gives a view of the runway.

The new production facility that is getting started on construction is located at Mojave Air and Space Port in the Mojave Desert, California. Wallace & Smith General Contractors, based in Bakersfield (USA), is handling the turnkey design and construction management services.

The building is to cover 68,000 square feet and is a clear span hangar that will also include offices and will serve as The Spaceship Company's headquarters once it's finished. It will be used mainly for final assembly, integration and testing of the company's craft before they go into service. The hangar has the capacity to support the production of two WhiteKnightTwo carrier planes and at least two of the smaller SpaceShipTwo spacecraft at the same time. The facility has an initial order from Virgin Galactic to build three of the carriers and five passenger craft. The first two spacecraft are to be named Enterprise and Voyager after the fictional starships in the Star Trek science fiction TV programmes and films.

Rumours that Master Yoda is soon to be appointed as project director are as yet unsubstantiated.

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