Boeing and Space Adventures have linked up to make commercial flights into low earth orbit more accessible - though they won’t be a reality until 2015 and a price has yet to be fixed.
The space jaunts to the International Space Station and other similar suitable LEO destinations will be in a seven-seater Boeing capsule currently being developed with the help of an $18 million contract with Nasa. The capsule will go on top of the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets (from United Launch Alliance) and Falcon 9 (from SpaceX), and will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. They’ll return to Earth by parachute in the way the pre-Space-Shuttle space missions did.
Both companies have stars in their eyes about the viability of the spacecraft, CST-100, and see a market in tourists, companies and governmental agencies from other countries who might want to visit the International Space Station. Junkets will also be available to non-profit organisations and non-Nasa US federal agencies.
Watch: Boeing/Bigelow Crew Space Transport Vehicle.
This is not the first tie-up of its kind for Boeing, which is working with Bigelow Aerospace to fly astronauts to a Bigelow-run private space station by 2020. Space Adventures, of course, has a history in the business, having already flown seven private individuals – including SA’s own Mark Shuttleworth - to the ISS in permanent orbit on the Soyuz spacecraft. It had contracted with a Russian space agency, which initially cost $20 million a return flight, but the price has since doubled to $40 million a passenger.
So now the two companies aim to compete with the Russians, and, as in other aviation sector, bring prices down for passengers and goods. This is the first time an existing, big scale space-contractor company is offering private individuals rides into space. More such ventures are in the offing, however: SpaceX itself is talking about taking passengers into low earth orbit, but right now its focus is on taking cargo payloads to the ISS.
Watch: New Virgin Galactic Introduction film with up to date footage and insight on the project.
Until then, wannabe space tourists will have to make do with the next best thing – sub-orbital passenger flights, such as offered by Virgin Galactic. Its VSS Enterprise (a.k.a. SpaceShipTwo) will take passengers to just a tad further than 100km above the surface of the Earth and will include some minutes of weightlessness as well. More than a hundred passengers have already signed up for it, but there’s space for more. DM
Main picture: A depiction of Boeing/Bigelow space craft docking at Bigelow-run private space station.