Recreational space travel was once seen as accessible only to billionaires, yet today the emergence of a commercial space travel industry targeting a broader demographic has never been closer. With an anticipated launch as early as 2014, space travel reservations are already being taken by Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace.
Richard Branson had grown up dreaming of going space, yet as the years went by he observed that:
In 1990, ever the opportunistic entrepreneur Branson patented the name Virgin Galactic and began to investigate the feasibility of commercial space flights. In 2004 he licensed SpaceShipOne technology (the technology behind the first manned commercial vehicle to reach suborbital space) to create SpaceShipTwo. Double the size of its predecessor, SpaceShipTwo holds 2 pilots and 6 public participants (not called passengers due to legal reasons around the safety risks of space travel). To date Branson has spent over $200 million on turning his commercial space travel dream into a reality.
Virgin Galactic space travelers will fly out a spaceport in New Mexico. Branson anticipates that after arriving in space, travelers will be able to float around in the back cabin to experience about five minutes of weightlessness. The company is already taking reservations at $200,000 a ticket ($20,000 minimum deposit) or $1,000,000 to reserve an exclusive space flight for you and up to 5 friends. Here is Branson’s short video on Virgin Galactic:
Created in 1999 by a group of rocket engineers, XCOR Aerospace is setting out to become the “Southwest” of space travel. To date the start-up has spent over $45 million on developing a spaceship the Lynx that can operate like a commercial airliner. XCOR’s chief test pilot is “39 days in space” pilot commander Richard Searfoss.
XCOR aim to offer up to 4 flights a day, 6 days a week departing from Midland, TX. Some flights will be for space travelers, while other flights will carry space experiments and small satellites for deployment. Chief test pilot and former NASA astronaut Richard Searfoss describes XCOR’s positioning:
Like Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace flights will travel up to sub-orbit providing about 5 minutes of weightlessness. However, at this time due to safety concerns and given the prospect of space sickness, XCOR Aerospace travelers will not be able to float around the cabin. XCOR Aerospace are currently taking reservations for $95,000 a ticket. Check out this short video to learn more about their proposed experience:
As with any new industry it will take time for prices to come down enough for space travel to become accessible to the mass market. Nevertheless this is an exciting start to the creation of a commercial space travel industry.
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