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Virgin, Rocketship in space price war

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  February 20, 2009 08:19 AM

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lynx.jpg
Space, the final travel frontier -- and now 50 percent cheaper, sort of.
Upstarts RocketShip Tours and XCOR Aerospace say that the price of their flights, slated to begin as soon as 2010, will be $95,000, about half that of the ones being offered by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which also hopes to launch as early as 2010.
"Our goal is to make space travel accessible and affordable to those who aspire to experience the ultimate adventure,’’ said Jules Klar, CEO and chairman of RocketShip in a statement.
It’s time to comparison shop. (Cue "Star Wars'' theme)


First, what do you get for your $95,000 from RocketShip (which has signed up about 22 people so far)? It begins with a five-night stay at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa in Arizona for training, medical screening, and other flight preparation (including some R&R), according to Klar. When your flight date nears, the company will put you up for another three days in Southern California, near the takeoff site in Mojave. You’ll get a preflight refresher course and a final once over.
When the day for your hour-long odyssey arrives, you’ll don a pressurized spacesuit and helmet and climb into a two-seat space vehicle called Lynx (you get to fly shotgun with the pilot), which will take off "with a powerful ascent reaching Mach 2 on its way to 200,000 feet,’’ or nearly 40 miles up, according to the company. That is a much higher than the cruising altitude of nearly 7 miles typically achieved by commercial airliners but a good bit shy of where space begins, generally agreed to be around 62 miles up.
By comparison, if you go with Virgin Galactic, the tab will be $200,000 -- and at that price Virgin says on its website that it has signed up "around 250.'' There will be six passengers and two pilots on each two-and-a-half-hour flight, preceded by three days of preflight training and screening at Spaceport America, a publicly-funded project 45 miles north of Las Cruces that the state of New Mexico hopes will be completed in late 2010. Groups will stay at a hotel that Virgin plans to build nearby, said Graham Whyte of Virtuoso Ltd., sales distributor for Virgin Galactic.
Instead of flying "direct" a mothership, which will launch from Spaceport, will take you to 50,000 feet and your space ship will separate and climb to a maximum altitude of at least 68 miles, according to the company. So unlike the RocketShip flight, you will actually go into space.
There are all kinds of technical differences in terms of the planes, but both companies insist that safety is Job 1 – and both suggest that federal regulation is relatively light, which is not surprising given that this is more of an adventure than a means of public transportation. (In fact, Klar told me the FAA refers to those who would go up as “participants” rather than travelers.)
Perhaps but the biggest difference between the two offerings seems to be that the Virgin folks plan to let passengers leave their seats for a bit to experience weightlessness, said Catherine R. Wygant of Hurley Travel Experts of Portland, an ‘‘accredited space agent’’ for Virgin.
If you fly RocketShip you get to experience significant G forces, wear cool gear, and get a great view of the geography of parts of the big blue marble, but you’re pretty much strapped in for the flight. No floating around the cabin.
But, hey, what do you expect for $95,000?


Photo illustration of Lynx courtesy of XCOR Aerospace

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8 comments so far...
  1. With all these blowhards like Branson touting how important global warming is why the hell is he selling the ultimate rich person hyper-fuel comsuming experience? Oh, I guess because only the rich can do it then it's OK because there are only so many rich people on earth and therefore it's OK for them to create CO2 at the rate of an entire small country in Africa. This has got to be the ultimate in hypocrisy. I'm so sick of getting lectured by these hollywood types about global warming while they constantly fly around the globe and I putter to work on my bicycle.

    Posted by Jay February 20, 09 01:03 PM
  1. I think it is important for science and the planet that man get into space. Sure it is these early wealthy people that are making it commercially viable for the technology to be created - but don't they aways lead they way in new technology? Look at the cell phone for instance, and early aviation only the wealthy could afford these things in the early years.
    By sponsoring this program they are paving the way for scientic research into climate change, weather, oceans, BIOFUELS and much much more.

    Posted by Helen February 20, 09 01:41 PM
  1. Jay,
    Just to throw out some numbers, AIUI, SpaceShipTwo uses Nitrous and Rubber (HTPB) at a ratio of about 6:1, with a nitrous tank in the ~12000lb range, and the rubber fuel being about 2000lb. Even if all of the carbon in the engine went into CO2 emissions (it doesn't), you're talking about 6000lb of CO2. Comparable to burning ~300 gallons of gasoline. The jet itself probably puts out 5x that much. But to put it in perspective, even if it was the equivalence of burning 3300gallons of fuel per day, I think most African nations burn a whole lot more every minute. You ought to save your outrage for something that's actually outrageous.

    ~Jon

    Posted by Jonathan Goff February 20, 09 04:34 PM
  1. Jay, please refer to http://xkcd.com/546/ for Self-Righteous posting information...

    Posted by Jon February 21, 09 12:43 PM
  1. Virgin rules. Make em bleed!!!!

    Posted by DUde February 22, 09 10:46 AM
  1. "Spaceport America, a publicly-funded project 45 miles south of Las Cruces"

    it is 45 miles north of LC. were it south, the spaceport would be in mexico.

    Posted by sipai February 22, 09 12:33 PM
  1. Any one have any more sill photos?

    Posted by Peter February 26, 09 03:30 AM
  1. Orbital Commerce Project, Inc. - www.orbitalcp.com
    OCP is the authorized ticket sellers for Rocketship Tours.
    Rocketship Tours - www.rocketshiptours.com
    Xcor Aerospace - www.xcor.com

    Posted by Bryan March 13, 09 05:40 PM
 
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