Everything You Need to Know About Space Tourism
Out of science fiction and into science fact; humanity is at the dawn of a new space age. From reusable rockets to space hotels offering rooms with one heck of a view, it’s no longer a question of if man will ever return to the frontier of space, but when we can buy tickets?
Though we’re not ready to flick the boosters just yet, we’re really not that far off either, with the likes of Virgin Galactic, Boeing, SpaceX, and Blue Origin all working around the clock to make the dream of commercial space travel a reality for everyone – not just the elite.
But what exactly are these companies working on and how much tinkering is still required?
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is the hot favourite to be the first commercial player out the gate, with final tests aboard its much-hyped SpaceShipTwo now expected to launch in just a matter of weeks, followed by the first commercial flights in a few short months.
First unveiled way back in 2009, Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo will take off from its spaceport in New Mexico aboard the jet-powered cargo aircraft White Knight Two, before releasing at the required height and travelling the remainder of the distance under its own power.
SpaceShipTwo will climb to a height of 110km above the earth, just beyond the Kármán line – the agreed boundary of space at 100km. So far fewer than 600 people have ever crossed this line, all of them put there by governments – but it won’t stay that way that for long.
More than 650 private individuals have already signed up, with Leonardo DiCaprio just one of the rumoured passengers. At a price of around USD $250,000 a pop, tickets aboard the early launches are all but out of reach for the average person, however the price is expected to drop to around $40-$50,000 over the coming decade. Still high, but more achievable.
Blue Origin, the space company from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is also expected to launch its own commercial flights in the new year, though the actual launch date is still unknown.
Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin is opting with a more traditional rocket launch, but with a reusable modern twist. Known as the New Shepard, the reusable rocket and crew capsule is designed to take passengers into suborbital space in style, with plush leather seats and large windows guaranteed to offer an incredible vantage of the world from above.
The unique system consists of a pressurised capsule atop a booster, which separates from the booster to coast quietly into space. After a few minutes of free fall, the rocket performs an autonomously controlled vertical landing, while the capsule and its passengers safely land under parachutes. Blue Origin has already made eight successful landings of its rocket.
Tickets on New Shepard are rumoured to be between USD$200,000 to $300,000 per person.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is getting in on the new space race too, however its main focus at this stage is on the commercial and government sectors, such as launching private satellites into space and ferrying NASA astronauts to the ISS aboard its reusable Dragon 2 spacecraft.
With that said, however, the innovative technology company is still taking an active role in the future of space travel. Launch vehicles capable of carrying humans to Mars and beyond, and reusable rockets designed with the goal of bringing down the costs of space travel and making it more regular, are just two of the many projects it currently has in the pipeline.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa was recently announced as SpaceX’s first private passenger, with his weeklong trip featuring a fly-by of the moon scheduled for 2023.
Dubbed the #dearMoon project, Maezawa’s out-of-this-world adventure will be made aboard the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), with the trip cost helping fund the still-in-development rocket. When completed, Maezawa will become the world’s first private lunar traveller.
Not one to be eclipsed, aviation leader Boeing is another key player working on space travel technology. Currently being designed for NASA, their innovative CST-100 Starliner will be a 21st century space capsule capable of taking people to and from low-Earth orbit, allowing additional to work from the ISS and increasing its ability to perform vital experiments.
The Starliner is expected to carry its first crew on a demonstration flight in August 2019.
As the world’s best and brightest rise to the challenge of getting us into orbit, keen entrepreneurs are already thinking of experiences for us once we’ve made it there.
Once such idea is the luxury space hotel Aurora Station, an ambitious but enticing project from California aerospace start-up Orion Span. So confident of its success, its creators are already taking reservations. With a deposit of USD$80,000 required though, it’s fair to say there will still be plenty of vacancies if or when the project ever gets off the ground.
Though each of these projects are at various stages of completion, one thing for certain is that space is no longer going to remain the final frontier, it’s going to become the next giant leap for humanity – and we’re only just getting started.
Published 12 October, 2018