It’s an exciting time for space fanatics everywhere as construction recently began on the world’s first commercial space launch pad, Spaceport America. Designed by Foster + Partners, the facility is located in southern New Mexico near the White Sands Missile Range and will serve as a launch site for private space travel. Built into the side of a hill, the Spaceport will meet LEED building standards and includes some high-tech green building strategies including a solar roof, excellent use of thermal mass, and a highly efficient HVAC system.

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Virgin Galactic, part of the Virgin Group run by Richard Branson, commissioned the Spaceport from Foster + Partners, and has invested over $300 million to develop the new space launch system. Their plans are to have their first private space launch by 2011. 300 passengers have already signed up for their space flight and paid their $200,000 for the privilege. Additionally, when completed, Spaceport America will serve as the official venue for the X Prize competitions.

Built into the side of a hill, the Spaceport will use the thermal mass of the surrounding earth to moderate the hot and cold desert temperatures. Earth-tubes will pre-condition air to reduce HVAC costs by 50-70% and solar thermal panels on the roof will heat water. The 110,000 square foot facility will also use skylights and natural ventilation to achieve greater energy efficiency.

On top of the new construction being über cool and exciting, Spaceport America isn’t too far away from famed Roswell, NM, known for the recovery of a UFO. The proximity of the two space sites will help boost interest in southern New Mexico as tourists travel to see the historical spot as well as the future-forward space launch site.

Executive Director Steve Landeene of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) said, “The groundbreaking for Spaceport America is the beginning of a historic new chapter in New Mexico’s long legacy of space and cutting-edge technology. From the pioneering rocketry work of Robert J. Goddard in New Mexico in 1930, the beginnings of America’s space program in the 1940’s and 50’s to the ongoing NASA programs at White Sands Missile Range and now to Spaceport America, the Gateway to the Future.”

+ Foster + Partners

+ Spaceport America

Via Core77 and World Architecture News