Spaceport America, the first commercial space terminal in the world, is nearly complete, making significant strides in both space travel and sustainable design. A dedication ceremony was held in New Mexico on 17 October.

The site, which is entirely owned and paid for by taxpayers and the state of New Mexico, will also be known as the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, since Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has a 20-year lease with the spaceport. The WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo spacecraft will launch commercial spaceflights from the site by 2013.

The spaceport was designed by Foster and Partners and SMPC Architects to fit in with the desert landscape 55 miles north of Las Cruces. From above, it looks like a manta ray rising from the earth and was built to preserve the viewshed from the west, where the structure stands in front of the Camino Real historic trail.

Many sustainable and energy-saving elements were designed for the spaceport. The heating and cooling systems use air that has been earth-tempered — drawn into a large tube and passed through the ground, which has a consistent temperature that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Though the proposed solar panels were eliminated, the roof of the circular building cantilevers out to shade the east wall of glass. In addition, the hangers are naturally lit with skylights and large windows. “I was there recently,” said David Hassard, the owner of SMPC Architects, “and I was pleased to see that there was very adequate day lighting without the lights being turned on.”

A central open-air corridor provides an impressive entrance to the spaceport; it is actually a ramp, so you start on the ground on the west side and enter at the top of the three-story structure on the east. A visitor’s centre is expected to open in 2013.