Price of trip into outer space drops by 50%
The frontrunner in the space tourism business seems to be Virgin Galactic, another enterprise of Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airlines and other virginal enterprises. V.G. is working on a vehicle that can be carried high into the atmosphere by a custom cargo airplane, then released to make the final jump into suborbital space with a rocket.
The spaceship is supposedly designed to allow "a carefree and heat free re-entry followed by a glide runway landing," avoiding the destructive problems that plagued the space shuttle program.
The vehicles are being tested through 2011, with the first real trip sometime after from the company's own spaceport in New Mexico. According to V.A., several hundred people have already paid the $20,000 deposit toward the total cost, per person, of $200,000.
The strongest competitor to V.A. is probably Space Adventures, which has already sent clients to spend time in the International Space Station via the Russian space program. It plans suborbital missions 62 miles high, where passengers can experience "a few glorious minutes" in weightless space. Intrepid dollarnauts and a pilot will ascend and return in a reuseable rocket-powered vehicle. And all this for only $102,000, half of what V.A. charges. The company has announced spaceports in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.
Does a mere suborbital mission seem too tame for your blood? Then pony up $100 million to be one of two passengers on its first Lunar mission.
The last of our competitors is XCOR Aerospace, a small, privately funded company headquartered at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California. It's Lynx suborbital launch vehicle will hold one pilot and one student. XCOR's rates are a relative bargain at $95,000; a $20,000 deposit will hold your berth. The company hopes to be able to start flying commercially as early as 2011.