US & Canada

Runway opens at world's first spaceport

Commercial space travel took a step closer with the opening of the runway at the world's first spaceport in the US state of New Mexico.

The event was marked with a flypast of an aircraft carrying SpaceShip Two.

The vehicle has been designed to take fee-paying tourists on trips to the edge of space and back.

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson - whose Virgin group has backed the venture - said the first passenger trip could happen within nine to 18 months.

The opening of the nearly two-mile (three-kilometre) runway comes less than two weeks after another major step for Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic company: the first solo glide flight of SpaceShip Two.

"Today is very personal as our dream becomes more real," Sir Richard said.

"People are beginning to believe now. I think the drop flight two weeks ago, which went beautifully, I think it made people sit up and realize this is really reality."

More than 300 people have already paid at least $200,000 (£128,000) each for a three-hour flight.

Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two - the jet-powered mothership that will carry SpaceShip Two to launch altitude - appeared at Friday's ceremony at Spaceport America near the Mexican border.

The craft, carrying SpaceShip Two, passed over the spaceport several times before landing on the new runway.

More on this story