Virgin Galactic pulls back curtain on "Gateway to Space"
After spending years baking in the New Mexico desert, Virgin Galactic has declared its Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America "operationally functional." In a media event on Thursday, company officials unveiled the interior of the facility that will act as both Mission Control and the departure/arrival lounge for space tourists flying on the company's SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft.
Designed by the firm of Foster + Partners, the Gateway to Space facility is something of a departure in the field of space travel. In one sense, it's a launch prep facility for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo suborbiter and its WhiteKnightTwo (VMS Eve) mothership. In another, it's a very exclusive airport that caters to a select clientele willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a two-and-a-half-hour flight to the edge of space and back – and expect to be treated as such.
The result is a combination spaceport that is part functional and part theater. The curves and colors of the building are designed to blend into the New Mexico landscape, yet provide the needed areas to prepare and operate a state-of-the-art spaceplane. It also needs to reflect the desire by Virgin Galactic to provide its well-heeled customers with the proper sense of drama as they go on what the trip of a lifetime.
To achieve this, the Gateway is separated into two parts. On the ground floor is the "Gaia" area, which acts as the departure and arrival lounge where what the company calls "Future Astronauts" can wait in comfort for their flight as they have breakfast with the flight crew and socialize with rocket engineers and the Mission Control team at the Barista Island with its central bar made of back-lit Italian marble and hand-crafted oak. There's even an elevated, interactive digital walkway to provide a suitable bit of stagecraft for the departing and returning passengers.
The upper level, called "Cirrus," houses Mission Control, the Mission Briefing Room, the Pilot Corps, and others of the Flight Operations team. It's a bit more functional with its sky-like color scheme and large window that provides a full view of the apron and runway.
To mark the Gateway's becoming operational, the mothership VMS Eve has been transferred permanently to its new hanger home, which will eventually house five SpaceShipTwo vehicles as well.
The video below discusses the new Gateway to Space.
Source: Virgin Galactic