Friday, May 25, 2012

The New Space Race

The AP had a great article by Seth Borenstein recently about the New Space Race, highlighting all of the companies currently working on programs to shuttle cargo and/or people to space. This, of course, is old news, but it's great to see the industry finally getting some serious attention from the press now that SpaceX is doing things for NASA that are useful (and least eventually). A couple eye-opening excerpts:

"There are now more companies looking to make money in orbit — at least eight — than major U.S. airlines still flying."

"There are already eight different licensed spaceports in the U.S. where companies can launch from and most of them have no connection to NASA."

Of the companies mentioned by Borenstein, five (SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin) have received money from NASA and are aiming to reach the ISS within the next 5 years. Orbital is the closest behind SpaceX, with a trip to the ISS scheduled for November.

XCor's "Rocket Racer" Looks surprisingly lightweight and
simple. It will carry space tourists on suborbital flights.
In addition to the companies looking to make money from NASA by building ISS shuttles, there are several companies looking to make money the old-fashioned way - by finding people who have too much money and offering a service they can spend it on. I previously wrote about SpaceX and Bigelow's deal to shuttle space tourists to a space hotel. Space Tourism is also being pursued by Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson's company), and XCor Aerospace, who hope to send tourists on day-trips to space. Their reusable spaceships will take off from an airplane runway and reach sub-orbital altitudes, giving passengers several minutes of zero G, and some fantastic views of the Earth, before landing again.

So how much will a space vacation set you back? XCor and Virgin are not publishing prices, but Space Adventures, which has been helping rich people get to space since 2010, charges $20 million for a trip to the ISS, but has accepted $5 million down-payments for sub-orbital flights. I'm guessing that XCor and Virgin are hoping to undercut this price point significantly. Still, it will likely only be affordable to the 1%. But who knows, with the current pace of innovation in the space industry, maybe in 2040 the middle classes will be complaining about leg room in their space shuttle.

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