A Brief History of Spaceport America

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

UPDATED: 8/20/19, 12:08 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan, British billionaire Richard Branson will board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico and take the first commercial suborbital space flight in history.

The landmark flight, which Virgin has been trying to conduct for 15 years, will also be the culmination of a 30-year effort by New Mexico to become a commercial space power.

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XS-1: A Closer Look at the Government’s Latest — and Sanest? — Attempt to Reduce Launch Costs

Artist's conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)
Artist’s conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)

In the era of bell bottoms and Richard Nixon, there was the space shuttle.

When Ronald Reagan ruled the roost, all hope rested in the National Aerospace Plane.

During the Bill Clinton era, there were the X-33 and Venture Star.

In Barack Obama’s first term, the Air Force pursued its Reusable Booster System (RBS).

Five programs. One objective: to radically reduce the cost to orbit. More than $14 billion spent on development. And the result? A super expensive shuttle program. Four vehicles that never flew. And access to space just kept getting more expensive.

Undaunted by these previous failures, the brilliant engineers and scientists at DARPA are once again giving it  the old college try. And this time around, they believe the technology has finally caught up with the ambition of making flying into orbit a daily occurrence.

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