Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Virgin Galactic et al Continue To Make Progress on Space Tourism Goal

While still a couple of years from commercial launch, Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic space flight company continue to make steady progress towards their goal of taking tourists into space. Just recently, a BBC journalist was given an exclusive first look inside the spacecraft.

Despite the cramped space, Virgin claims to have deposits from 400 customers who are willing to shell-out $200K each for the two hour flight that will include at least five minutes of weightlessness. And, the view from what is essentially the Kármán Line and 62 miles above terra firma? It promises to be spectacular for those willing to make such a large gamble, both in terms of cost and the inherent risk associated with space flight.

Of course Virgin is not the only company looking to exploit the final frontier. Their space initiative seems to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg...

At a recent Space Travel Summit held in Sofia, Bulgaria (who knew???), a number of other companies in addition to Virgin were highlighted including Blue Origin, Inbloon and Bigelow. Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos is the founder of the Blue Origin; and, given the company's cloud of secrecy and Jeff's stellar history at Amazon, this is one that should be watched closely. Inbloon has opted to use a balloon vessel as opposed to the Blue Origin rocket approach - the negative being a near space experience with the positive being slightly less sting on the wallet at roughly $156K per flight.

No space tourism discussion would be complete without mentioning Space Adventures. Their claim to fame? This is the only company that (in collaboration with some serious partners) has actually delivered on the promise of private space flight. Dennis Anthony Tito is said to have paid $20 million spacebucks for the distinct privilege of being the first Space Adventures customer. Just recently, Space Adventures announced a partnership with Armadillo Aerospace - yes, you heard that right - for suborbital spaceflight. All jokes aside, given the track record of Space Adventures and their partners, Armadillo Aerospace should be on the short list for anyone looking to add space tourist to their cocktail party repertoire.

Sooner or later, an airline was bound to catch the space bug; enter KLM Royal Dutch Airlines who have announced that they too will sell commercial spaceflights in partnership with Space Experience Curacao. Like the other new market entrants mentioned herein, it would appear that KLM's partner is also making steady progress towards space tourism. Now that is one airline connection that would be worth the wait!

There certainly is no shortage of naysayers who think that Sir Richard's space odyssey - or, for that matter, all other related projects - will never achieve "lift-off" much less commercial success. Still, it is too early to draw final conclusions one way or the other, however Virgin's recent update certainly seems to be another step in the right direction. For those of us who hope and dream of someday venturing into space with a company like Virgin Galactic (even if only for a short while and for some serious money), we say "Godspeed Sir Richard!"

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