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New Mexico passenger spaceport nearing completion

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - The New Mexico Spaceport Authority, which plans to start launching citizen astronauts on suborbital flights within 18 months, has begun soliciting contract bids from local businesses for day-to-day operations of the facility.

Construction of the world’s first commercial passenger space terminal, dubbed Spaceport America, is slated to be finished next year near the town of Truth or Consequences in southern New Mexico. The 2-mile-long main runway was completed in October.

Two other major structures nearing completion at the nearly $200 million facility are the air-fire rescue facility and a 110,000-square-foot hangar, authority spokesman David Wilson said.

To date, 380 wannabe space cowboys have each plunked down $200,000 each to reserve a seat aboard a Virgin Galactic six-passenger spacecraft for a 2-1/2-hour suborbital flight some 70 miles above the Earth, Wilson said.

Under a 20-year lease with the state, Richard Branson’s firm is Spaceport America’s anchor tenant and principal spaceliner, paying lease charges of up to $200 million, plus user fees to operate their own aircraft and to contract with other aerospace companies.

The site has been providing commercial launch services for the aerospace industry since 2006 and is expected to be fully operational by mid-2011. But Virgin Galactic expects to take another year to begin its private passenger service, once its test-flight program is complete.

The authority’s executive director, Rick Homans, this week issued a call for businesses to submit proposals for three major areas of operation of the spaceport.

They include general services, such as maintenance; protective services for site security, safety and environment health management; and technical services, including airfield and launch support, airspace management and flight safety engineering.

“Spaceport America is all about creating new jobs and new opportunities in New Mexico,” Homans said in a statement.

“These contracts ... represent real jobs involved with operating the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, and they signify a critical milestone for the project.”

Wilson said officials have not determined the total value of the state contracts.

Editing by Steve Gorman

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