Spaceport America
An artist's concept of Spaceport America, a suborbital spaceport under construction in New Mexico. Spaceport America Conceptual I

Spaceport America will be the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport, and it is almost finished.

Under construction roughly 45 miles north of Las Cruces on a remote desert landscape, the 18,000-acre Spaceport America site encompasses a nearly two-mile long, 200-foot wide spaceway that can handle the suborbital traffic flow of pay-per-view space tourists using anchor tenant Virgin Galactic and its WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system, reported.

Creating the space-age feel, a futuristic-looking terminal hangar, and a dome-shaped Space Operations Center, is nearly complete. The spaceport will serve as the hub for Virgin's consumer spaceflights.

The spaceport Phase 1 construction work is now 90 percent done and the first phase is on schedule to be done by the end of 2011, said David Wilson, head of Spaceport America Media Relations in Las Cruces.

The first phase, Wilson said, is the spaceport's large runway, which is completed, the terminal hangar facility that Virgin Galactic will use, the internal roads, fencing, electrical system, water/sewer systems and the Space Operations Center.

The second phase, which has just started construction, is comprised of the final build-out of the Vertical Launch Complex facility, the visitor/welcome centers in the neighboring towns of Truth or Consequences and Hatch and a visitor area on the main spaceport campus. This is scheduled to be completed by 2013.

After this, the spaceport will be fully operational.

Christine Anderson, the newly appointed executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, told she was jazzed about the progress made so far.

When you think about what a feat that is, to build all that anywhere, but then to build it in the middle of the high desert in New Mexico - that's a small city that was built, Anderson said. So, hats off to all the contractors and architects and everybody else that spent a lot of time and sweat equity in its development.

There is no firm date yet for Spaceport America to begin operations, but Anderson's best guess is that flights could begin in the first quarter of 2013. Virgin Galactic's launch system is still in testing.