Billionaires Against Gravity: When Space Tourism Goes Massive

Billionaires Against Gravity: When Space Tourism Goes Massive

On June 26, 2017, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said that a Blue Origin rocket engine plant would be built in Huntsville. Large-scale enterprise with an area of ​​19 thousand square meters. m will produce BE-4 liquid engines for this company's missiles.

Blue Origin, like its competitor Virgin Galactic, is a pioneer in the emerging private tourism industry. At the same time, their ticket offices are already open: in April 2014, Virgin Galactic announced that it had managed to sell 700 tickets for future flights.

But so far there has not been a single commercial suborbital flight. The owners of both companies postpone the start date of regular flights almost every year. For example, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said in 2008 that he plans to launch his ship for the first time no later than in a year. It's 2017, and, like a decade and a half ago, space tourism is available only to clients of the state-owned Roscosmos. Private companies are faced with an insurmountable problem - they cannot guarantee tourists 100% safety. According to experts, now at least one in a hundred launches ends in disaster, which means that obtaining the permits necessary for a stable business looks unrealistic.

Flights in dreams and in reality

The idea of ​​a "private taxi" in the field of space tourism seemed like complete madness not long ago: until the mid-2000s, no private company possessed the technology necessary to put manned spacecraft into orbit. Only dollar millionaires could count on traveling to airless space: since 2001, the price of a flight on the Soyuz, delivering tourists to the ISS, has grown from $ 20 million to $ 40 million, and until now only seven tourists have visited the ISS.

But then the business managed to discern its niche - suborbital flights. Due to the fact that the spacecraft does not need to be accelerated to the first space speed and put into a stable orbit, but rather raised to an altitude of about 100 km, the launch costs significantly less than the orbital one - only $ 100-150 thousand. Private companies have developed technological solutions to implement this idea. In 2004, British tycoon Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic, the brainchild of the SpaceShipTwo reusable spacecraft. According to the plans of the developers, it will be delivered to the launch altitude (about 20 km) using the White Knight Two aircraft, and then set off on an independent journey to an altitude of 80 km.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is considered the world's number two wealthy by Forbes, created Blue Origin in 2000, originally focused on launching satellites into space. Five years later, Bezos announced plans to build the New Shepard for suborbital tourist flights. The first successful launch with professional pilots took place in 2015. Unlike the "space plane" Virgin Galactic Blue Origin takes off vertically, like a real rocket, rising above the Karman line - the border zone between the atmosphere and space, at a distance of about 100 km above the Earth. The entire flight takes 11 minutes, four of which take place in zero gravity. One of the features of the ship is that the crew capsule has huge observation windows.

In fact, the companies have chosen a solution that NASA itself applied half a century ago. Catching up with the USSR, which launched Yuri Gagarin into space, on May 5, 1961, the United States sent astronaut Alan Shepard into the sky: unlike the Soviet Vostok-1, the Mercury-Redstone-3 capsule spacecraft did not enter orbit, but flew through the ballistic trajectory and splashed down into the ocean. If Shepard is worthy of the title of the first astronaut, then the suborbital flights offered by the company are undoubtedly space ones. This example is appealed by both Blue Origin, which named its ship New Shepard, and Virgin Galactic, whose representatives refer to the fact that NASA considers everyone who has risen 80 km above the ground as astronauts.

Since 2009, Virgin Galactic has been selling tickets for future flights, each costing $ 250,000. Blue Origin has not yet sold tickets or even announced their approximate price, but most likely it will be at the same level. True, for less money, tourists will get less pleasure - if the tourists of Roskosmos visit the ISS for several hours or even days, then everything that Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin can offer is from two to five minutes of being in zero gravity. It's more like a zero-gravity airplane that aerospace centers have been selling for a long time. So, the Moscow Region Zvezdny Gorodok, using the IL-76 for this, for 200 thousand rubles. offers up to 15 gravity-free sessions of 25-30 seconds.

By the faithful "CosmoCourse"

There is also a private company in Russia that expects to make money on space tourism - CosmoCourse, created in 2014, which develops its own launch vehicle and spacecraft (both are reusable) with the assistance of the Skolkovo Foundation and "Roskosmos". “The reusability of our ship will be provided similarly to the New Sheppard project by Blue Origin,” says Pavel Pushkin, general director of CosmoKurs. - This is a jet landing of a launch vehicle on folding supports and a parachute jet landing of the spacecraft itself. At the same time, our ships will rise to an altitude twice as high as that of Blue Origin - up to 180-220 km and spend one and a half times more time in zero gravity. There will also be twice as much free space for each tourist ”. The Russian company plans to set the ticket price the same as that of Branson - about $ 250 thousand. Pushkin expects that his reusable spacecraft will carry about 700 tourists into space annually. But so far the complex is at the design stage. Pushkin believes that CosmoCourse will begin its creation no earlier than 2018, and hopes that the first launch will take place in 2021.

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