All systems go: Space tourism blasts its way onto the bucket list


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All systems go: Space tourism blasts its way onto the bucket list


Fancy a trip to the stars? A growing pool of private spaceflight operators will soon be blasting wealthy individuals out into space, and their founders say the journey will become far cheaper within the decade i.

Space tourism has to date been confined to the ultra-rich. Only eight privately funded travellers have visited the International Space Station since 2001 ii , and no wonder - it currently costs about US$52 million for a ten-day trip via commercial spaceflight operator Space Adventures iii.

Blue Origin has launched and landed the world

Billionaire entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are betting on a more flexible definition of space tourism to bring costs down.

By flying to heights of only 110km iv, instead of the 400km needed to reach the ISS v, for example, Branson's Virgin Galactic will give tourists a few minutes of weightlessness for US$250,000 vi.

According to the United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), space tourism will be a billion-dollar market within the decade vii. Surveys have found more than half of the general public wanting to visit space, predominantly for the opportunity to experience weightlessness and to see our magnificent planet from afar viii.

Quoting Goldman Sachs research, Forbes has described private spaceflight as a "space race" that could "turn into an investment opportunity of cosmic proportions" ix.

Here are the trips most likely to become commercially available in the coming years.

Blue Origin's New Shepard

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is building both sub-orbital and orbital spacecraft that will take humans into space.

Its New Shepard spacecraft seats six with enough room for passengers to "float freely and turn weightless somersaults" x. New Shepard successfully reached a sub-orbital altitude of 100.5km in a test flight last month. It landed safely, and could take paying passengers in two years' time xi.

Ticket prices have not yet been disclosed. Space tourists are expected to experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

XCOR Aerospace's Lynx

Spaceflight start-up XCOR Aerospace's two-seater Lynx is slated to take commercial passengers to suborbital altitudes above 100km by 2017 xii.

Tickets initially cost US$95,000 each, for which tourists would receive medical screenings, seminars, g-force training xiii, and five minutes of weightlessness.

XCOR has sold more than 300 tickets to date; ticket prices will increase to US$150,000 as of 2016, due to market demand xiv.

SpaceX's Dragon

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Tesla Motors' Elon Musk with the lofty aim of enabling humans to colonise other planets xv. Its Dragon spacecraft currently carries cargo to the International Space Station, but was designed to ultimately transport humans xvi.

The capsule was built with NASA's support and could ferry seven passengers plus cargo to the ISS at a cost of US$20 million a seat by 2017 xvii - far cheaper than the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that currently serves NASA as well as Space Adventures.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

WhiteKnightTwo and the first SpaceShipTwo on runway. Source Virgin Galactic (http://www.virgingalactic.com/)

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is slated to take groups of six passengers plus two pilots into space on board its SpaceShipTwo from 2017. The spacecraft targets sub-orbital altitudes of about 110km, from where Virgin says passengers will experience the "best possible view of Earth and the blackness of space" xviii.

Some 700 people from more than 50 countries around the world have already paid in full for their tickets, which cover the cost of three days of training at New Mexico's Spaceport America, custom flight suits, the flight into space, and video footage xix.

KosmoKurs' five minutes in zero-gravity

Russia's answer to Virgin Galactic expects to offer passengers five minutes of weightlessness at sub-orbital altitudes from 2020. Tickets cost US$200,000 to US$250,000, and include training, the spaceflight, video footage, and potentially a spacesuit xx.

CEO Pavel Pushkin is targeting Chinese space tourists and hopes to send 7,000 tourists to space - half the world's space tourism market - in its first decade of operations. The company is working exclusively with partners and suppliers in Russia.

Space Adventures' Moonflight

Space Adventures is currently the only company to have sent tourists into space xxi. To date, it has transported eight individuals 400km up to the ISS.

By 2018, Space Adventures plans to send tourists on a slingshot ride around the moon, which is about 382,500km away from Earth . The journey will take 16 to 17 days, including a ten-day stopover aboard the ISS. Tickets cost US$150 million iii.



iO'Neill I 2013, 'Branson has another idea for cheap space travel', Discovery, 27 September, viewed 12 December 2015, http://news.discovery.com/space/private-spaceflight/branson-we-do-have-another-idea-for-cheap-space-travel-130927.htm

iiSpace Adventures, Space station, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.spaceadventures.com/experiences/space-station/

iiiKlotz I 2014, 'Fly me to the moon (for $150 million)', Discovery, 13 June, viewed 12 December 2015, http://news.discovery.com/space/private-spaceflight/fly-me-to-the-moon-for-150-million-140613.htm

ivLamb R 2010, 'How high will Virgin Galactic Fly?', Discovery, 2 August, viewed 12 December 2015, http://news.discovery.com/space/how-high-will-virgin-galactic-fly.htm

vSharp T 2015, 'International Space Station: facts, history & tracking', Space.com, 19 March, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.space.com/16748-international-space-station.html

viVirgin Galactic, Ready to become an astronaut?, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.virgingalactic.com/human-spaceflight/fly-with-us/

viiKlotz I 2012, 'U.S. space tourism set for takeoff by 2014, FAA says', Reuters, 21 March, viewed 13 December 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-space-tourism-idUSLNE82K01420120321#4CiHFfrbdoJDDq7d.97

viiiReddy MV et al, 'Space tourism: Research recommendations for the future of the industry and perspectives of potential participants', Tourism Management (2012), doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2011.11.026

ixSchaefer S 2015, 'Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and what the billionaire space race means for investors', Forbes, 2 December, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveschaefer/2015/12/02/elon-musk-jeff-bezos-billionaire-space-race/

xBlue Origin, Technology, viewed 13 December 2015, https://www.blueorigin.com/technology

xiDean J 2015, 'Blue Origin launches, lands New Shepard rocket booster', Florida Today, 24 November, viewed 13 December 2015, http://www.floridatoday.com/story/tech/science/space/2015/11/24/blue-origin-launches-lands-new-shepard-booster/76301552/

xiiXCOR, FAQ, viewed 13 December 2015, http://www.xcor.com/faq/

xiiiLandman T 2015, 'XCOR's Lynx spaceplane meets development milestone leading up to first test flight', AmericaSpace, 11 May, viewed 13 December 2015, http://www.americaspace.com/?p=81719

xivFoust J 2015, 'XCOR to raise ticket prices for suborbital flights', SpaceNews, 22 July, viewed 13 December 2015, http://spacenews.com/xcor-to-raise-ticket-prices-for-suborbital-flights/

xvSpaceX, About, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.spacex.com/about

xviSpaceX, Dragon, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.spacex.com/dragon

xviiGeuss M 2014, 'SpaceX shows off Dragon V2, its brand new manned space capsule', ArsTechnica, 30 May, viewed 12 December 2015, http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/05/spacex-shows-off-dragon-v2-its-brand-new-manned-space-capsule/

xviiiVirgin Galactic, This is how you will become an astronaut, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.virgingalactic.com/human-spaceflight/your-flight-to-space/

xixVirgin Galactic 2015, Virgin Galactic at a glance, September, viewed 12 December 2015, http://www.image.net/download/virgingalactic/false/295325621.295325622

xxZavyalova V 2015, 'Economic crisis in Russia lowers prices for space tourism', Russia Beyond the Headlines, viewed 12 December 2015, http://rbth.com/science_and_tech/2015/01/23/economic_crisis_in_russia_lowers_prices_for_space_tourism_43095.html

xxiSpace Adventures, About us, viewed 13 December 2015, http://www.spaceadventures.com/about-us/

xxiiNASA 2009, Distance to the Moon, October, viewed 13 December 2015, https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/Distance_to_the_Moon.pdf