The Age Of The Spaceport

11_09_cover_spaceport_550_387One of our spacecraft is missing, the Russians admitted last month. There was no Cold War-like fear of covert superpower sabotage as there might have been in the days of the space race, but this mysterious disappearance alarmed a nervous aerospace industry. The launch of the £146m Russian communications satellite aboard a Proton rocket seemed to go fine and flight controllers had just began to celebrate when it vanished from the radar screens.

It alarmed an industry which has become more dependent on Russia’s launch capability to reach the International Space Agency since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles earlier this year. It also came just days the Russian space agency Roscosmos said it would be moving resources away from manned flight to commercial satellites.

So the failure refocused attention on the future of space travel now that NASA’s Space Shuttle is a museum piece.

Our satellite correspondent Mark Williamson visited the Baikonur launch site in Kazahkstan a few weeks before the disappearance of the Express-A4M. Baikonur doesn’t do the Hollywood countdowns, it’s more cavalier about allowing spectators close and the building design couldn’t be more different to what America is building for future space launches.

Construction has started on the world’s first commercial spaceport, designed by Foster and Partners, in the New Mexico desert. It is where Virgin Galactic will launch its first tourists into space – as soon as next year if all goes to plan. Take a look at the extraordinary trilobite-shaped buildings and find out how the centre plans to give people a holiday that’s out of this world even before blast-off in our feature on page 33.

The shuttle became a twentieth century design icon. We take a quick look at other great transport designs in this issue, of the wheeled – and legged – variety. Mobility scooters are a growing business but there are many more ingenious ways of helping people with personal mobility problems to get around. We pick ten of the best. This month’s photo essay celebrates the two millionth Mini to roll off the BMW plant in Oxford. The Mini is of course a car design classic. But there’s another – for a certain generation, possibly greater – classic coming up for auction next month. The ever-so-pink Panthermobile is star of our big picture photo gallery right now. Altogether now: Well, here he is, the pink panther, The rinky-dink panther…

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