Images: Soon-to-be bustling space hubs?

Plans are fast developing to turn areas in the United States and beyond into booming spaceports. Where will they be?
By Andy Smith, Contributor
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Aerial view of Spaceport America

Richard Branson's space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, will eventually operate out of the newly renamed Spaceport America, a $225 million facility to be built in New Mexico. The site, previously called the Southwest Regional Spaceport, sits 45 miles north of Las Cruces.

Branson said last week that the company is on track to launch suborbital flights to space tourists in 2008 out of the Mojave Desert and had sold tickets to its first 150 passengers. Flights will cost $200,000 per person. In 2010, Branson expects to move the venture permanently to the New Mexico site.

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SpaceShipOne lands at Mojave

Virgin Galactic is building five models of SpaceShipTwo, a larger version of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne.

In 2004, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X prize offered to the first private organization to launch a reusable, manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.

Here, SpaceShipOne makes a test landing at the Mojave Spaceport in September 2004.

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Spaceport America launchpad

This site is being readied for early September, when Up Aerospace plans to launch the inaugural test rocket from the Spaceport America area. The rocket can carry up to 110 pounds of cargo, which range from people's personal items, such as business cards or rings, to scientific experiments from high schools and universities across the country.

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Space Adventures Singapore port

Space Adventures, a private company that has sent well-heeled tourists into space, announced Monday that it is partnering with a Singapore-based consortium to build a space station in the small island nation. The commercial spaceport will offer suborbital spaceflights, as well as operate astronaut training facilities and an educational visiting center for the public.

Space Adventures announced in May that it agreed to buy Space Launch, a small jet engineering company, in a move to develop proprietary commercial rockets in the United States. Under the deal, the company will maintain Space Launch as a wholly owned subsidiary in order to develop aerospace technologies for a future tourist program for travel in suborbital space in the United States.

Space Adventures' past tourist trips to the International Space Station have largely been possible through the Russian Space Agency and a contract with the Myasishchev Design Bureau, a private Russian engineer of space vehicles.

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Spaceport Oklahoma

Oklahoma-based Rocketplane Limited is working on designs for reusable space vehicles the company hopes will serve space travel markets in the suborbital and orbital regions--and beyond.

Rocketplane has teamed with the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Agency to make the state a strong presence in the burgeoning space tourism field, focusing their flight operations out of Spaceport Oklahoma, which is in the town of Burns Flat.

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Spaceport Oklahoma runway

Spaceport Oklahoma occupies 3,000 acres in the western part of the state. The land has changed hands between various local and federal agencies since 1942. The spaceport boasts the third largest runway in North America, at 13,502 feet and serves as an alternate landing site for NASA's space shuttle program. The facility already includes an operational tower, fire and rescue service, and hangar space. In the future, it will feature a new flight operations center.

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Blue Origin map

Richard Branson isn't the only high-profile entrepreneur throwing his hat into the space tourism ring. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' company, Blue Origin, recently submitted an environmental assessment for a planned multimillion-dollar spaceport in West Texas near Van Horn. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is reviewing the company's request, held a hearing Tuesday to get public input on the development project.

Until now, Blue Origin has been fairly secretive about its operationsl; the proposal to the FAA offered the public new insight into the company's plans. In its proposal, Blue Origin says it hopes to begin flight tests by the end of this year and to begin commercial spaceflights in 2010.

One key thing that sets Blue Origin's plans apart from its competitors is that the company is planning to build its entire facility on private land and with private funds. Other companies are working with local and state governments on building out the ports.

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Blue Origin view

It may not look like much now. But if Blue Origin's plans are approved, this land near Van Horn, Texas, will undergo an extreme makeover. A large part of the company's proposal to the FAA includes potential effects of the spaceport, including habitat destruction, increased human presence and noise pollution.

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Mojave Spaceport

Mojave Airport and Spaceport, which calls itself America's First Inland Spaceport, is located in the town of Mojave, in southern California. The spaceport was licensed to launch reusable spacecraft by the FAA in 2004. It has the benefit of being a restricted air space because it is near Edwards Air Force Base.

Space Launch, which was recently acquired by Space Adventures, and XCOR Aerospace, are two of the spaceport's current partners.

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Dnepr rocket

There appears to be a growing demand for space launch sites. Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace, a private company looking to build a commercial complex in space by 2015, was forced to turn to Russia to send its first satellite into orbit atop a converted ICBM Dnepr rocket. Their flight was a success but a Dnepr rocket loaded with 18 satellites crashed on takeoff Wednesday.

Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow says his company's biggest hurdle will be to find enough rocket launches to run his proposed space hotel which could be a reality in just nine years.

11 of 11 Andy Smith/ZDNET

Kennedy Space Center

This spaceport may be a bit more familiar to the average American.

On April 12, 1981, the space shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The shuttle was the first reusable spacecraft, and the two solid rocket boosters that launched it were the first to be reused. It was a very risky mission--the first time a manned spacecraft had launched without a test flight.

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