Spaceport America

SieraCounty, New Mexico, United States

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AECOM, leading a team of local consultants, provided a range of services for the Spaceport America development in New Mexico from initial programming and site studies for the State of New Mexico, and continuing through to providing structural, MEP, civil and environmental engineering services for the Virgin Galactic gateway building designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with SMPC architects.

Initially, AECOM worked with the State of New Mexico in 2006 to provide programming work and conceptual design for the proposed development including demand forecasts, site layout, and criteria for the initial and long term development of all infrastructure facilities including airfield, aprons, roadways, utilities, fuel storage, launch pads, hangars, ARFF, and support buildings. The final Programming Report was issued in May 2007.

The AECOM team implemented the program, for the initial operational Spaceport, with the development of designs and construction documents for 11 separate construction contracts including airfield, roads, utility infrastructure, and systems integration. Services provided during the design phase included Program Management, engineering support to the FAA’s EIS, Spaceport licensing support, and agency / stakeholder coordination. Design was completed and construction documents approved in June 2008.

Following the completion of the EIS and issue of the Record of Decision, construction began in July 2009. The AECOM team provided construction phase services in support of NMSA’s construction manager including provision of a full time representative on site. The AECOM also provided LEED commissioning services associated with the Terminal Hangar Facility, Virgin Galactic’s anchor facility. In 2013 the AECOM team provided additional design and construction phase services for a new vertical launch landing pad to accommodate SpaceX and their development testing program for returnable first stage booster rockets.

As the first major element completed, the 10,000 foot long, 200 foot wide runway was dedicated in October 2010. All but one of the remaining infrastructure projects were completed and closed out during 2012 and 2013. The Systems Integration and LEED commissioning, both dependent on the THF, were completed and closed in 2014.

For the terminal-hangar building, we provided civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing design services, as well as overall project management services. This Foster + Partners’ designed building houses a 45,000-square-foot drive-through hangar and a 14,000-square-foot maintenance area. These facilities can house two mother ships and five rocket-powered space vehicles that will ferry passengers to suborbital space. In addition, the facility boasts more than 10,000 square feet of double-height glass, allowing natural light to enter the facility, and a 45-foot-high soil berm planted with native materials to insulate the structure and integrate it into the surrounding landscape.

The terminal-hangar’s sinuous shape was designed to lessen the visual and physical impact on the nearby El Camino Real, a national historic trail. The unique roof structure resembles a pair of wings from the front and a stingray from above. To maintain the integrity of the design and meet the project’s $30 million construction budget, AECOM recommended breaking the roof system into straight segments instead of smooth curves. This innovative solution allowed the structure, while still geometrically complex and aesthetically pleasing, to be fabricated and erected more economically.

AECOM engineers incorporated an innovative underground heating and cooling system in the terminal-hangar building. The system, which features concrete pipes averaging approximately 200 feet in length, preheats the air in winter and precools the air in summer. This green solution was an economical way to lower the heating and cooling demand by 41 percent—and was one of the reasons the landmark facility met the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standard for environmental quality.