Friday, Oct. 22, marked a significant milestone for Spaceport America as officials gathered to celebrate the completion of the facility’s two-mile-long runway.

Spaceport America is New Mexico’s taxpayer-funded gamble to turn the state into the world’s hub for commercial space tourism. The brainchild of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and millionaire adventurer and entrepreneur Richard Branson, construction of Spaceport America began in 2009, and when complete, will be home to Branson’s space tourism startup Virgin Galactic, a subsidiary of his Virgin Group.

New Mexico taxpayers are funding a large portion of the $200 million facility, which several studies estimate will bring anywhere from 2,300 to 5,000 jobs and generate revenues nearing $1 billion.

On Oct. 10, Virgin Galactic completed the first non-powered test flight of its reusable spaceship, recently christened the VSS Enterprise. The VSS Enterprise is a scaled-up version of the vehicle built by aerospace legend Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites, which in 2004 won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately built craft capable of reaching sub-orbital space. Following that achievement, Rutan and Branson partnered to create Virgin Galactic. Needing a home for their proposed operations, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico officials, including Richardson, conceived Spaceport America. The state hopes the spaceport will serve as an economic development opportunity for the sparsely populated state, while Virgin Galactic prizes the location for its lack of population and air traffic.

According to Virgin Galactic, the company plans to begin launching customers into space in early 2012. Tickets aboard the six-passenger VSS Enterprise are $200,000. The company says it has received $50 million in deposits from 370 customers.