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Spaceport America
Norman Foster & Partners

October 24, 2011 /

Upham, New Mexico, USA

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Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

The recently completed Spaceport, located in the desert-like landscape of New Mexico, is the first building of its kind in the world.

Its design aims to articulate the thrill of space travel for the first space tourists while making a minimal impact on the environment.

Viewed from space, the terminal evokes Virgin Galactic's brand logo of the eye, and is suggestive of an elongated pupil, with the apron completing the iris. Approached from the historic El Camino Real trail, the terminal's organic form appears as a subtle rise in the landscape.

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Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

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Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

Organised into a highly efficient and rational plan, 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, while the more sensitive zones - such as the control room - are visible, but have limited access.

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Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

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Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

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Photo: Nigel Young_Foster + Partners

Visitors and astronauts enter the building via a deep channel cut into the landscape. The retaining walls form an exhibition space that documents a history of space exploration alongside the story of the region and its settlers.

The strong linear axis of the channel continues into the building on a galleried level to the super hangar - which houses the spacecraft and the simulation room - through to the terminal building. A glazed facade on to the runway establishes a platform within the terminal building for coveted views out to arriving and departing spacecraft.

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Visualization: Foster + Partners

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Visualization: Foster + Partners

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Visualization: Foster + Partners

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Visualization: Foster + Partners

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Visualization: Foster + Partners

With minimal embodied carbon and few additional energy requirements, the scheme has been designed to achieve the prestigious LEED Gold 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; and maximum use is made of daylight via skylights. Local materials and regional construction techniques aims to be both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings.

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Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSite Plan
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Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersPlan
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Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSection
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Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSection
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Drawing courtesy Foster + PartnersSection

Early on Wednesday May4, 2011, in the skies above Mojave Air and Spaceport CA, SpaceShipTwo, the world's first commercial spaceship, demonstrated its unique reentry "feather" configuration for the first time. This test flight, the third in less than two weeks, marks another major milestone on the path to powered test flights and commercial operations.

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Photo courtesy Virgin Galactic

Facts about Spaceport America

Site Area:

300,000 ft2
Gross Area: 93,453 ft2
Net Area Western zone: 4463 ft2 / 414 m2
Hangar: 55,000 ft2
Public viewing gallery: 5,079 ft2

Architectectural Lead Design:

Norman Foster
Grant Brooker
Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson
Joon Paik
Hiroyuki Sube
See Teck Yeo
Kristine Ngan

Architecture and Engineering:

URS Corporation

Project Manager, Structural and MEP Engineer Architecture:

SMPC Architects

Environmental Design/LEED:

PHA Consult

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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