LAS CRUCES, N.M. — At the site of the X Prize Games, work is under way here to build what backers hope will be the first spaceport specifically designed to handle commercial passengers and payloads launched to the edge of space and evenutally into Earth orbit.

They see New Mexico’s Spaceport America as one gateway in a community of gateways around the world that might one day provide point-to-point travel destinations for suborbital spacecraft that hop between spaceports in support of vacation travelers, as well as a host of other businesses.

But before such visionary operations start, spaceport proprietors face a number of challenges.

Rick Homans, cabinet secretary of New Mexico’s Department of Economic Development and chairman of Spaceport America, said the spaceport, which is planned for a site 48 kilometers east of Truth or Consequences and 72 kilometers north of Las Cruces, is expected to cost some $225 million to construct. Homans said that the plan is to break ground at the spaceport in late 2007.

Spaceport advocates met at the 2nd International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight, held here this week prior to the Wirefly X Prize Cup competitions slated for October 20-21 at the Las Cruces International Airport.

Followed by several years of building, Spaceport America would be up and running to handle British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital spaceliner operations flying under the Virgin Galactic flag.

“By 2010 we expect to be launching Virgin Galactic on regularly scheduled flights to space from New Mexico at [a rate of] one or two times a week,” Homans said, later ramping up to several times a day.

Homans said that Spaceport America will handle other tenants too. Cargo and passenger flights to the international space station will depart from the facility, “and soon thereafter to the Moon,” he added.

John O’Connor, chairman and chief executive officer of DMJM Aviation, the engineering and architectural firm now designing Spaceport America, said 22 individual categories of spaceport facilities already have been defined. These include a passenger terminal complex, airfield, ground facilities, hangars, emergency response buildings and a public viewing site as well as mission and launch control, air traffic control facilities and facilities for training.

In addition, work is under way to characterize the needs of both horizontal and vertical take off and landing vehicles, O’Connor said.