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Virgin Galactic unveils "spaceport" in New Mexico with a Richard Branson drop-in and Champagne (VIDEO)

Virgin Galactic dedicated its new facility, Spaceport America, in southern New Mexico with a drop-in by Richard Branson and a spaceship flyover.
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SpaceShipTwo (Virgin Galactic/Screengrab)

Virgin Galactic dedicated its new facility, Spaceport America, in southern New Mexico with a drop-in by Richard Branson and a spaceship flyover.

The Associated Press reports:

With his usual flare, British billionaire Richard Branson repelled from a balcony, shook up a bottle of Champagne and took a swig while christening the world's first built-from-scratch commercial spaceport.

The now completed Spaceport terminal and hangar will house Virgin Galactic's spacecraft — including the SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo — as well as its mission control and a space tourist "preparation area."

(GlobalPost reports: NASA to charter Virgin Galactic spaceship, SpaceShipTwo, for research)

According to the AP, 2 1/2-hour suborbital ride on WhiteKnightTwo will cost $200,000 and include "about five minutes of weightlessness and views of Earth that until now only astronauts have been able to experience."

Some of the 455 ticketholders were attending the dedication ceremony and treated to a flyover by WhiteKnightTwo.

Last week, Virgin Galactic announced that it had agreed to charter its new private spaceliner SpaceShipTwo, to NASA for research purposes.

Under the $4.5 million deal, NASA engineers, technologists and scientific researchers will make up to three flights on the SpaceShipTwo, an air-launched spacecraft designed to carry eight people on trips to suborbital space, the company has announced on its website.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez attended the spaceport dedication, given the $209 million facility is taxpayer-financed.

Virgin Galactic officials expect powered test flights to begin next year, with a commercial service beginning after the company gets a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Virgin Galactic and New Mexico Spaceport Authority officials have touted the "green" nature of the building, designed by United Kingdom-based Foster + Partners, along with URS Corp. and New Mexico architects SMPC.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/virgin-galactic-space-travel-spaceship-nasa-charter-video