Runway opens at world's first spaceport

Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise made a celebratory flight over the runway

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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.

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