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Products and solutions, 2011-12-06, 10:00 AM

Spaceport America will soon become the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport: German specialists produce complex stainless steel part for the roof of the futuristic terminal

Soon, would-be astronauts will be able to realize their dream of taking a trip into space. “Spaceport America”, located in the southwestern US state of New Mexico, is the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport developed in part, for space tourists. Brave passengers will soon be able to experience weightlessness and enjoy an incomparable view of the earth. The centerpiece of the spaceport is a futuristic Terminal Hangar Facility built to the designs of the renowned architects Foster + Partner engaged by the New Mexico Space Authority and officially opened on October 17, 2011. Major parts of the undulating roof structure, which looks a little like a stingray, are made from colored stainless steel, which was manufactured, formed and painted by a special treatment by the German companies ThyssenKrupp Nirosta (Krefeld), Christian Pohl GmbH (Cologne) and Inox Color (Walldürn).

Work on the future of space tourism is being carried out over 70 square kilometer site. One of the people working with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority on the project is the British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who for years has been trying to develop commercial space flight and make it affordable for more people. It is his carrier aircraft and spaceships that will take the amateur astronauts into space. Anyone who has flown at a height of 100 kilometers is regarded as an astronaut. After a couple of weightless minutes in orbit, they will then return to the blue planet. Although the space trip itself is very short, passengers will have to undergo three days of training beforehand. Virgin Galactic, the company established by Branson’s Virgin Group to undertake the challenge of developing space tourism for everybody, is offering flights for a starting price of 200,000 US dollars and several hundred people from around the globe have now booked their place in space.

Construction work on “Spaceport America” started in the New Mexico desert in June 2009. Alongside the three-kilometer runway, the central feature of the site is the stunning Terminal Hangar Facility that will house the Virgin Galactic operation. An international design competition was launched for this building, which was won by the world famous architects “Foster + Partners” (London) comprising among others the engineers URS Corporation. The building’s organic shape resembles a small rise in the landscape. The interior houses a departure lounge with huge viewing windows, changing rooms, a canteen and a control station. Astronauts and visitors enter the high-tech building via a deep channel cut into the landscape.

The outer edge of the roof structure is made of stainless steel from ThyssenKrupp Nirosta. It comprises around 1,400 square meters of radius panels made from the material Nirosta 4301 in a microlinen finish. To ensure the terminal blends in well with its surroundings, the 1.5 millimeter-thick panels were then given a bronze-colored painting by the special Inox Spectral-Treatment, an electrochemical process developed by Inox Color. After coloring, the panels were sent to Christian Pohl GmbH for further processing. Here, the panels were formed into complex rounded roof edge profiles. Production of these so-called bullnose edges is extremely complicated. Not least for this reason, the German companies involved in the project emphasize that the Spaceport America project was an exceptional challenge in many ways. ThyssenKrupp Nirosta and Christian Pohl GmbH once again showed themselves to be pioneers in the production of highly complex parts, complemented on this project by the expertise of Inox Color.

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