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Virgin Galactic Opens the Doors to the ‘Gateway to Space’

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 15, 2019
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Interior of the Gateway to Space in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, NM, August 15, 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic today revealed the first look at the interior fit-out of its Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The work completed showcased two floors of the building primarily focused on spaceflight operations, which also incorporates communal spaces designed for use in the future by Virgin Galactic customers, along with their friends and families. Completion of this interior work means the spaceport facility is now operationally functional and able to support Virgin Galactic’s flight requirements. 

One of the hallmarks of the Virgin brand for over nearly half a century has been the use of inspired and bold design to transform customer experiences. It is an ethos that has been successfully applied across industrial sectors and design disciplines. From aircraft cabins to hotel bedrooms and from fitness classes to bank accounts.

Virgin Galactic has striven to remain faithful to that tradition by choosing an elegant, experience-focused concept for the space launch system itself. Similarly, the company’s choice to operate from Spaceport America in New Mexico was due in no small part to the state’s decision to commission landmark architecture for the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

The Foster + Partners Gateway to Space facility pays homage to the past in its respect for the ancient surrounding landscape while powerfully embracing the future through energy efficiency and sustainability. It was also specifically designed to enable Virgin Galactic to create an unparalleled experience as its customers prepare for journeys of a lifetime before graduating as astronauts.

The first floor is focused on our home planet, and is named Gaia, representing the point of departure and return, as well as the purpose of each astronaut’s journey. The color palettes and the use of natural materials aims to bring the stunning landscape which surrounds Spaceport inside.

The floor design, furniture and fittings promote social interaction and human discourse – a sense of togetherness and unity. An elevated, interactive digital walkway will heighten the departure experience for the Future Astronauts and their friends and family as they set out from Spaceport to VSS Unity on the day of flight. The Earth-focused design will provide a fitting welcome to those newly-graduated astronauts returning from space with a new appreciation and understanding of our home planet.

Gaia is subtly and unobtrusively zoned into practical, formal and informal spaces which will host the space operations team, Future Astronauts and their family and friends. It serves as the social hub of the building, where everyone is part of the Virgin Galactic family; Future Astronauts will share breakfast with spaceship pilots, grab coffee with rocket engineers and pass the time of day with the team from Mission Control.

The focal point of Gaia is the Barista Island, a central bar made of back-lit Italian marble hovering above hand-crafted oak providing a social hub for our hospitality team to engage with guests and staff. Spaceflight preparation will unite our teams with our Future Astronauts in the pursuit of a common purpose. The Barista Island within Gaia will help to foster that sense of camaraderie and the determination to deliver each Future Astronauts’ personal mission.

The second floor is named Cirrus, representing light, air and flight. It is the beating heart of spaceflight operations, and is connected to the community hub of Gaia below through a double height atrium. The color palette graduates from the earthy tones below in Gaia to lighter white and grey shades, reflecting the skies beyond and providing a clean environment supporting operational focus. 

This area is home to Mission Control, the Mission Briefing Room, the Pilot Corps and the rest of the Flight Operations team.

Mission Control enjoys a dedicated space which allows focus on flight operations. Outside this space, the Flight Operations team and the pilots are positioned to give an unrestricted view of ground operation areas including the apron and runway.

Virgin Galactic’s space fleet will be housed in the Gateway to Space hangar which is already home to VMS Eve. This huge expanse in the middle of the building is large enough to accommodate two carrier aircraft, each with a wingspan of 140 ft along with five SpaceShipTwo vehicles.

The unveiling of Gaia and Cirrus brings to life a beautiful, world-first and world-class facility and means that Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space is now functionally operational – ready to host the remaining portion of Virgin Galactic’s test flight program before welcoming its very first Future Astronauts.

7 responses to “Virgin Galactic Opens the Doors to the ‘Gateway to Space’”

  1. ThomasLMatula says:

    Really nice restaurant, but a bit off the Interstate for the average traveller. You know its really sad. If New Mexico had followed the original marketing strategy Spaceport America could have been a real center for space innovation instead of a high price tourist trap.

    • therealdmt says:

      What was the original marketing strategy?

      • ThomasLMatula says:

        The original marketing strategy that was developed in the 1990’s by the SRS Task Force was to leverage the numerous organizations in the Rio Grande research corridor (NMT, NMSU, UNM, Sandia, Los Alamos,WSMR, AFRL) to combine their efforts and use it for the development of rocket engines, reusable rocket systems and external launch systems like rail guns and laser propulsion. There would also be a focus on promoting it for suborbital flights for science, education and research (SER). The spaceport would also be used to promote STEAM education to produce a high tech workforce for the state. Interestingly enough the only real activity at the spaceport over the last decade has been in those areas, even though there has been virtually no marketing effort.

        It is sad SpaceX went to the far smaller McGregor range simply because no one in NM made any effort to point out the advantages of the NM spaceport’s location, the highly skilled workforce from WSMR and the aerospace program at NMSU that SpaceX could have tapped into for their testing and development of the Falcon. The work they SpaceX is doing at McGregor and Boca Chica could have been done far faster and cheaper at the spaceport, and they wouldn’t have their Starhopper tests being held up by the FAA like they are now.

        Other firms like Vector and World View would have also benefited from operating from there. Remember, NMSU and WSMR have been doing high altitude balloon flights since the 1940’s and could have supplied World View with both the launch equipment and expertise that they lacked because they located in Tucson where there was no center of high altitude ballooning expertise to tap into. Meanwhile WSMR has been doing rockets launches since the end of WWII.

        That $220 million New Mexico wasted on an unneeded runway and this luxury bar could have been great seed money to advance rocket technology and market the spaceport. But they choose to buy into the hype of Sir Richard Branson and ignore the real opportunities.

  2. Paul_Scutts says:

    Retro – It’s got a bit of a “Back To The Future” feel about it … Mr Sandman, bring me a dream …

  3. Ron Fenn says:

    It is quite apparent that there is too much money in the wrong or too few hands. So glad that one of the poorest communities in one of the poorest states can provide such opulence for so few.

  4. Kenneth_Brown says:

    Yep, I see the place settings… all fitted out for flight ops.

  5. therealdmt says:

    Well, I think its cool. Looks great:

    Of course, its taken longer to come to fruition than anybody had hoped (actually, commercial service still hasn’t quite come to fruition!), and I stopped caring much long ago, but I wish them luck. What a long slog!

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