US shows spaceport design

The New Mexico Spaceport unveiled the design of Spaceport America.

Spaceport officials say the low-lying 100,000-square-foot (9,290-sq. meter) hangar and terminal facility will have a minimal impact on the environment, resembling a rise in the southern New Mexico desert landscape.

Construction is to begin next year and is expected to be completed in late 2009 or early 2010.

The design "is outstanding in the way it blends in with the environment, creating a shape that is both distinctive and functional while complementing the landscape," said Kelly O'Donnell, head of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.

The design, from a U.S.-British team, sweeps back from large windows that open onto a view of the runway and spacecraft. The rolling concrete shell that acts as a roof looks like a set of folded wings, and its form is dug into the ground to exploit the thermal mass, buffering the building from the extremes of the southern New Mexico climate.

The design uses the earth as a berm and relies on passive solar energy for heating and cooling and photovoltaic panels for electricity and water recycling. Natural light will come in through skylights.

The terminal and hangar are expected to cost about $31 million (22.74 million EUR).

Spaceport America officials announced the selection of the design team last month. The team consists of the engineering and design firm URS Corporation, a prominent contractor for the U.S. government, and the architectural firm Foster + Partners of Great Britain, which has extensive experience in designing airport buildings.

Eleven firms competed for a contract to build the structure that will serve as the operating base for the spaceport's anchor tenant, British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and headquarters for the Spaceport Authority.

The design team will work with the spaceport authority and Virgin Galactic to finalize the design. The authority expects to put the construction contract out to bid in the first part of 2008.

The other elements of the spaceport - roads, runways, security, water, electricity and communications systems - are being designed by DMJM:AECOM and will be put out for construction bid later this year, the spaceport authority said.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova