The European aerospace company EADS Astrium revealed its plans for space tourism a couple of weeks ago. The company unveiled plans for the development of a new space plane which would take four passengers up to space. The plane would reach near-orbital altitudes (more than 100 kilometers above Earth) for its passengers to experience 5 minutes of weightlessness and enjoy a beautiful view of the planet.
A 90-minute trip on board the space plane will cost a pretty penny: the cost per passenger is estimated at around 200,000 euros (about $260,000). Still, the ticket price is considerably lower than that paid by space tourists for a trip to the International Space Station. According to EADS estimates, the project will cost about 1 billion euros. EADS Astrium will soon start looking for investors and partners to secure funding of the project. If development plans run on schedule, the first trips could be made as early as 2012.
The Astrium space plane will take off from a conventional airport’s runway using standard jet engines. Once the plane reaches an altitude of 12 kilometers, its rocket engines will ignite. The space jet will be able to soar up to 60 kilometers in 80 seconds. The rocket engines will burn long enough for the plane to reach 100 kilometers of altitude and enter a suborbital orbit. The whole jorney should take about 90 minutes, including 5 minutes of a “true-space” experience.
The concept of commercial space tourism is not new. Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire and founder of Virgin Group of Companies, has been working on a program aimed at building a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and launch aircraft. The program is centered around SpaceShipOne, which became the world’s first private manned spacecraft to fly suborbital space in 2004. In comparison with the Astrium space plane, a carrier aircraft is used for boosting SpaceShipOne to an altitide at which the spaceship will continue to travel independenlty. The Astrium space plane project involves the use of the same vehicle for reaching a required altitude and flying into suborbital space. The EADS Astrium design offers a clear advantage in terms of safety, production cost and fuel economy.
Translated by Guerman Grachev