It is known for designing the American Air Museum, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts – and it now looks as if UK architecture firm Foster + Partners will be putting its thoughts to designs that occupy a different type of space.

Foster + Partners, with engineering design firm URS Corp – responsible for the Denver International Airport and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre – have won the tender for Spaceport America, the world’s first spaceport. The design will become home to Virgin Galactic, the X Prize Cup and other leading space companies.

The $25.7m facility in New Mexico will be about 100,000m2, housing offices and hangar space for air and space craft. Facilities for Virgin Galactic are expected to take over 84,000m2 of the building.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority chair Kelly O’Donnell says 11 tenders were submitted for the design, but in the end it came down to the winner’s experience with space and airport design.

Foster + Partners are responsible for the current Beijing and Stansted airports in China and the UK.

“The URS / Foster team presented us with a concept that blends sensitivity to the environment, cutting-edge technology and a stunning image and shape when viewed from above,” O’Donnell says.

Foster + Partners founder Lord Norman Foster says he was pleased his team could add an ecologically sound emphasis to the project, setting standards for similar projects in years to come.

“This technically complex building will not only provide a dramatic experience for the astronauts and visitors but will set an ecologically sound model for future spaceport facilities,” he says.

A contract will now be negotiated between the winning partners, after which the plans for the concept will be released.

By Penny Jones