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If you’re paying $450,000 per person for a two-hour rocket ride into space, you might reasonably expect the place where you spend four days training for the experience to be out-of-this-world, if not downright celestial. In designing the Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded by Virgin Group entrepreneur Richard Branson, the architects at BA Collective (BAC) collaborated with their client to meet that expectation.

The interior space of just over 10,000 square feet is situated within the 110,000-square-foot Spaceport America, designed by London-based Foster + Partners. Almost 200 miles south of Albuquerque, it’s located near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (formerly Hot Springs, renamed in 1950 after the popular game show).

Los Angeles–based BAC, headed by founding partner Hagy Belzberg, had been on Virgin’s radar for several years when the aeronautics giant invited the firm to compete for the design of a lounge at LAX in 2015. That didn’t work out, but it led to a second competition in 2017 for Virgin Galactic’s New Mexico project. This time, BAC got the job. Challenges included getting labor and materials in a remote location, completing construction during the Covid pandemic, and a budget that was surprisingly grounded.

The client brief was straightforward: create a wow-inducing training facility to prepare space tourists for short flights into the lower orbital environment. (Branding seems to have been a lesser priority, since Foster had already addressed that: viewed from space, the terminal evokes Virgin Galactic’s eye logo.) The largest program requirement was a multipurpose lounge that could provide a relaxed learning environment suitable for health assessment, instruction on safety protocols, and equipment preparation. BAC’s design team, including partners Cory Taylor and Jennifer Wu with associate principal Liz Pyatt, gave them all of that and quite a bit more.

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.

The lounge is dominated by three circular pods, defined by dramatic sculptural partitions that morph into benches (1 - 3). Photos © BA Collective, click to enlarge.

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.
Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.

Arriving at the lounge is a journey in itself. After an hour-long drive from a local municipal airport along the historic Camino Real Trail, astronauts-in-training approach the spaceport, an earth-toned circular form approximately 300 feet in diameter, which appears to rise organically from the rocky desert. They enter through double doors of rough weathering steel, the same material that sheathes much of the building’s exterior. So begins a carefully syncopated axial sequence whose total length runs approximately 225 feet.

A discreet vestibule leads to a long, narrow enclosed bridge. Stainless-steel panels line the walls, while floors and ceilings are finished in high-gloss epoxy lacquer. These highly reflective surfaces are punctuated by a rhythmical pattern of floor-to-ceiling LED strips. This makes the enclosure appear to dissolve, creating the illusion of light projecting infinitely. At the midpoint of its length, the bridge widens, revealing an enormous spacecraft hanger below, its buzz of activity visible through full-height glass walls and audible through speakers. Finally the bridge opens to the lounge. What might have been just circulation is an otherworldly procession.

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.

The highly reflective surfaces of the bridge are punctuated by a rhythmical pattern of floor-to-ceiling LED strips. Photo © BA Collective

In plan, the lounge occupies a large segment—about 75 feet wide—of the building’s low-slung cylindrical form. Its exterior enclosure is entirely glazed, flooding the space with daylight while providing panoramic views of the rugged New Mexico landscape. Doors integrated into the curtain wall open to a terrace. A vast central area is dominated by three circular pods, defined by dramatic sculptural partitions that morph into benches. These are intended for social gathering and education. Layered translucent curtains, hung from ceiling tracks, can obscure two of the pods like diaphanous clouds. “The design plays with moments of community and individuality, expansiveness and intimacy, excitement and quiet, which parallels the rhythm of the training experience,” says Belzberg, the son of a sculptor and an aerospace engineer.

The interior perimeter, mostly enclosed by full-height walls, contains classrooms and private spaces. The most dramatic, clustered around a dimly lit crescent-shaped vestibule, are the individual suites. Here, aspiring rocketeers can decompress and find moments of solitude and reflection. Doors double as vitrines, each containing a personalized space suit, softly lit and displayed like a religious icon. Inside, hung from the ceiling, are sinuous daybeds, lushly upholstered with cushions of graduated size. Customized side tables and cabinets hold personal belongings.

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.

Space suits are displayed like religious icons. Photo © BA Collective

Finishes are lustrous, while forms and furnishings are appropriately aerodynamic. Curved walls are fire-rated plywood egg-crate frames filled with foam and covered in plaster painted eggshell white. Large-scale seating upholstered in custom-woven fabric reinforces the curvilinear geometry. Floors are concrete, stained and highly polished, softened in two of the pods by custom rugs. “The base building has a rugged Cor-Ten and glass exterior palette that’s in keeping with the harsh New Mexico–desert climate,” explains Belzberg. “However, on the inside, the palette is in direct contrast, to feature and celebrate the technological refinement associated with space exploration. The materials are sleek and seamless.”

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.

Large-scale seating is upholstered in custom-woven fabric (4 & 5). Photos © BA Collective

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.

So, is Virgin Galactic’s Astronaut Training Facility worth the astronomical price of admission? Only the few deep-pocketed space travelers who get the chance to use it can really say. But it’s an inspired design, elegantly executed, which meets a high-profile client’s very specialized needs. According to former Virgin Galactic design director Jeremy Brown, “It elevates the impact of the journey ahead.”

Click drawings to enlarge

Astronaut Training Facility for Virgin Galactic.


BA Collective — Jennifer Wu, Kristofer Leese, Elizabeth Pyatt, Amanda Schwarz, Alexis Roohani, Cory Taylor, Hagy Belzberg

High Mesa Consulting Engineers (civil); Red Mountain Engineering (structural); Bridgers & Paxton Consulting Engineers (m/e/p)

Progressive Construction Management (pm); Spectrum Oak (millwork)

General Contractor:

Spaceport America

10,000 square feet


Completion Date:
June 2023



Corbin Russwin, Comp X, CR Laurence, Nabco, Assa Abloy, Ives, LCN, Glynn-Johnson, Rockwood, Mockett, Schoolhouse,

Interior Finishes:
Sherwin-Williams, Behr, Benjamin Moore (paints); Porcelanosa, Stone Source (tiles); Pulp Studio (glazing)

Barrisol, Perigold, Juniper Design, Acolyte, Intense Lighting, Lumithree, Spectrum Lighting, Lucent