UPHAM, N.M. - Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and prospective astronauts gathered in the southern New Mexico desert Friday to celebrate the completion of the runway at the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.
Spaceport America is the world's first venue designed specifically to launch commercial spacecraft. The celebration of its nearly-two-mile-long runway comes less than two weeks after another major step for Virgin Galactic: the first solo glide flight of its space tourism rocket ship.
"Today is very personal as our dream becomes more real," Sir Richard said.
The British billionaire said the next step is more rocket testing and getting the vehicle called SpaceShipTwo into space. He said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months.
Tickets for suborbital space rides aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $200,000. The 2 1/2-hour flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness.
Some 380 customers have made deposits totaling more than $50 million, Virgin Galactic officials said.