VIRGIN SPACESHIP TO PASS NEW MILESTONE; RUNWAY COMPLETE...[LINK]
Spaceport America runway dedication today; Virgin Galactic spaceship to visit
Posted: 10/22/2010 08:26:12 AM MDT
LAS CRUCES - The first-ever visit today from a much-touted Virgin Galactic plane and spaceship, a duo that one day will ferry passengers into suborbital space from southern New Mexico, is bound to stir local interest.
However, the event, set to take place today at Spaceport America in southeastern Sierra County, is an invitation-only affair.
Invited guests of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority will be transported to the site via tour bus from staging points in Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences.
Does that mean the uninvited public won't have a shot at viewing the flyover of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo?
There may be a chance to catch a glimpse from outside the spaceport grounds, but the challenge will be in finding a vantage point that doesn't violate state law.
Sierra County law enforcement is bracing for spectators who show up on county roads adjacent to the spaceport, hoping to see the plane-spaceship combo. The routes are public up to the spaceport gate.
State police and Sierra County sheriff's deputies today will patrol County Road A013 in the vicinity of the spaceport, said Lt. Glenn Hamilton of the Sierra County Sheriff's Department.
"We will have ... roving patrols to ensure those members of the public that come out to snap pictures or try to get a glimpse of the WhiteKnight(Two) ... are not blocking private roadways or standing or stopping along the roadway," he said. "Our primary function is to make sure we have
an uninterrupted flow of traffic along our county road out there." Hamilton said there's a narrow shoulder along most of the road, but are a few spots where vehicles can pull off the road and not impede traffic.
Virgin Group head Richard Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson are expected to attend the event, a formal dedication of the 10,000-foot by 200-foot spaceport runway. It starts at 11 a.m.
Spaceport Authority Director Rick Homans said he doesn't know the specific flight path that will be taken by Virgin Galactic pilots as they approach the spaceport.
Still, Homans acknowledged that the nearby roads are public.
"I know public safety will be concerned about cars stopping on the roadway, and if they pose any threat to public safety vehicles," he said.
In addition to the roving patrols, Hamilton said two checkpoints, one that's about 3.5 miles north of the spaceport and another that's about 2 miles south, will be staffed. However, he said people won't be turned away at these stations simply because they don't have an invitation.
Rather, the point of the checkpoint stations, Hamilton said, is to help invited guests reach the spaceport.
"Their primary function is to get those visitors to the spaceport - those visitors with passes and event staff who maybe haven't been there before," he said.
But people will be turned away at the spaceport gates, if they don't have pass, Hamilton said. Also, he said, if drivers park their vehicles on private land and leave them, the vehicles can be towed.
Hamilton said some 800 to 1,200 invited guests will attend the dedication ceremony. That would be largest attendance to date at a spaceport event since the facility's inception, he said.
A Las Cruces Fire Department crew will be on hand to handle emergency response related to the aircraft. A crash response vehicle from Ruidoso, a medical response helicopter and volunteer fire departments from Sierra County also will be present.
Asked whether Virgin Galactic's vehicles will land, Homans said he doesn't know.
"The plan is to have a flyover," he said. "We're still working on last-minute details as far as how the governor and Richard Branson get into the site. There may be a vehicle that carries the principals out there."
The $200 million, state-financed Spaceport America is a launch site for commercial space vehicles that's still under construction. It is expected to become fully operational next year.
Diana M. Alba can be reached at (575) 541-5443