Space Tourism – Taking Off?

Two magazines arrived in my mailbox last week. Both had “Space Tourism” as their cover story. one was Ad Astra (Summer 2009), the quarterly magazine of the National Space Society. The other was Aviation Week (September 7, 2009). On their cover, both magazines had photographs of Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two, built by Scaled Composites in Mojave, California.

While the Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composite venture (at $200,00 per flight) is the best known, there are a lot of other private spacecraft in development.

  • XCOR – Augustine Commission member, Jeff Greason is CEO of XCOR. Their Lynx vehicle will carry one pilot and one passenger to an altitude of 38 miles (61 km). Total flight time is around 30 mijnutes from takeoff to landing. Propulsion is a liquid oxygen / kerosene rocket engine (Lynx 5K18). The Lynx Mark 2 is designed for 68 miles (110 km). Cost is $95,000 per flight.
  • Rocketplane Global – Having spent in excess of $24 million on their XP suborbital space plane, the financial mess has made it difficult to raise capital. Chuck Lauer, CEO, said that more than $100 million of additional costs would be needed to get to first flight.
  • Blue Origin – Jeff Bezos’ company has been conducting test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle since 2006. “Flight opportunities in 2011 may be availablefor autonomous or remotely-controlled experiments on an un-crewed flight test”, according to the website.
  • Talis Enterprise – Testing of the BlackSky prototype is scheduled for 2010. Maximum altitude is 28 miles (46 km). A larger six passenger craft, Enterprise, is scheduled to begin flying passengers in 2013. Cost is estimated to be between $30,000 and $50,000 per flight.
  • EADS Astrium – The winged space plane for suborbital tourism has been put on hold, pending the current economic situation.
  • Space Adventures – Having announced plans in 2006 to build a suborbital vehicle, the company is focusing instead on trips to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz space craft.
  • Armadillo Aerospace – Having already won the Level 1 $350,000 prize in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, John Carmack (DOOM and Quake) and his company are in the lead to capture the Level 2 prize of $1,000,000. However, they have announced that a deal to build a suborbital tourism vehicle will not happen.

Image: Dave Fischer used by permission