Located in the desert-like landscape of New Mexico, Spaceport America is the world’s first commercial space terminal. It will support up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles, and will also house all astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control centre and a friends and family area.
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.
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. 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.
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. Intended to be built using local materials and regional construction techniques, it aims to be both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings.
Location: New Mexico, USA
Client: New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA)
Gross Floor Area: 10.219 m2
Architects: Foster + Partners, SMPC Architects
Design Team: Norman Foster, Grant Brooker, Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson, Joon Paik, Hiroyuki Sube, See Teck Yeo, Kristine Ngan
Architecture and Engineering Project Manager, Structural and MEP Engineer: URS Corporation
Environmental Design/LEED: PHA Consult
Cost Estimating: Balis and Company
Photo by: © Nigel Young_Foster + Partners
Courtesy Foster + Partners