Published on : Friday, July 13, 2018
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, are racing to be the first to finish their tests – with both companies using radically different technology.
Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.
Having paid for a much cheaper ticket – costing US$250,000 with Virgin, and US$200,000-US$300,000 with Blue Origin – the new round of space tourists will be propelled 80-100km high, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 400km from our planet.
The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins – either the Karman line, at 100km, or the 80km boundary recognised by the US Air Force.
At this altitude, the sky looks black and the curvature of the Earth can be seen clearly.
In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 34km.
In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.
On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of an 18-metre-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 106km high.
After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.
From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.
Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.
But one of its directors, Rob Meyerson, said in June the first human tests would come “soon.”
Meanwhile, another company official, Yu Matsutomi, said during a conference Wednesday that the first tests with passengers would take place “at the end of this year,” according to Space News.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport Nasa astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays – a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.
Meanwhile, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years – but the project is still in its early stages.
Tags: Space tourism