Scaled Composites and aerospace designer Burt Rutan’s successful suborbital flights of SpaceShipOne in 2004, paved the way for commercial space travel. The following year Scaled Composites and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group created The SpaceShip company, which will initially manufacture five SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicles for Virgin Galactic.
A prototype of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, is slated to be unveiled later this year and features an interior designed by firm Seymour Powell. As in SpaceShipOne, circular windows, a total of fifteen, are scattered across the cabin including the floor and ceiling. The high-G’s exerted onto passengers during the climb and reentry have been reduced by ergonomic seats that automatically recline and shift.
Earlier this month Foster + Partners revealed their winning design for the world’s first private spaceport, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Building, created in collaboration with engineering design services firm URS, SMPC Architects, PHA Consult, Balis and Company and Exploration-Synthesis Partners. This spaceport will be the launching pad for Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo.
“The sinuous shape of the building in the landscape and its interior spaces seek to capture the drama and mystery of space flight itself, articulating the thrill of space travel for the first space tourists. Making a minimal impact on the environment, the scheme will be the first facility of its kind and a model for the future.
The Spaceport lies low within the desert-like landscape of the site in New Mexico and seen from the historic El Camino Real trail, the organic form of the terminal resembles a rise in the landscape. Using local materials and regional construction techniques, it is both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings.
Organised into a highly efficient and rational plan, the Spaceport has been designed to relate to the dimensions of the spacecraft. There is also a careful balance between accessibility and privacy. The astronauts’ areas and visitor spaces are fully integrated with the rest of the building to convey the thrill of space travel. The more sensitive zones – such as the control room – are visible, but have limited access.
Visitors and astronauts enter the building via a deep channel cut into the landscape. The retaining walls form an exhibition space that documents the history of the region and its settlers, alongside a history of space exploration. The strong linear axis continues on a galleried level to the ‘superhangar’ – which houses the spacecraft and the simulation room – through to the terminal building.
Designed to have minimal embodied carbon and few additional energy requirements, the scheme has been designed to achieve the prestigious LEED Platinum accreditation. The low-lying form is dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass, which buffers the building from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation. Natural light enters via skylights, with a glazed facade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway.
Lord Foster said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be part of the dynamic team chosen to design the world’s first space terminal. This technically complex building will not only provide a dramatic experience for the astronauts and visitors, but will set an ecologically sound model for future Spaceport facilities.”
Also of note, famed designer Philippe Starck in conjunction with design agency GBH Design Ltd., contributed a new visual identity for Virgin Galactic. Philippe Starck explains: “The curiosity and adventure of the human spirit exists in the vision of a human eye, from today, through millions of years of evolution, right back to the beginning of mankind. The nebulous iris represents the infinite possibilities of this endeavour and signifies our opportunity to look back at earth from space with our own eyes for the first time. The eye’s pupil incorporates an eclipse, the dawning of something new, something unique but accessible. Something far, but near.”