Is your space voyage sooner than you think?

Popular Science reports on Blue Origin and other players in the race to put paying customers into sub-orbit.

A mere three years after Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne skimmed the edge of space to capture the $10-million Ansari X Prize, more than half a dozen companies are furiously building and testing spacecraft designed to take paying passengers on suborbital journeys and beyond.

Five states, including California, Oklahoma, Florida, Virginia and Alaska, now hold government licenses for commercial spaceports—and the Federal Aviation Administration is already working to create new protocols so air-traffic controllers will know how to route old-fashioned commercial flights clear of busy spaceport traffic.

“The giggle factor is gone,” says Taber MacCallum, CEO of Tucson, Arizona-based Paragon Space Development Corp., one of a number of firms angling to supply future spaceliners with everything from spacesuits to rocket parts.

In January, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos grabbed headlines when he revealed that his secretive seven-year-old rocket-science side venture, Blue Origin, had successfully tested a vehicle dubbed Goddard. The craft, which launches and lands vertically, is a significant step toward the billionaire’s plans for flying sightseers to low Earth orbit and beyond.

By 2010, Blue Origin hopes to launch weekly suborbital passenger flights in a ship called New Shepard (as in Alan Shepard, the first American in space). The 50-foot-tall vehicle will ferry at least three passengers to 62 miles for a few moments of zero gravity at the edge of space, and land using retrorockets and a parachute.

Meanwhile Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic aims to beat Blue Origin to the launchpad and will test a craft dubbed the VSS Enterprise (yes, Spock, that one) next year, with commercial flights as soon as 2009. Designed by Rutan and modeled on SpaceShipOne, the 60-foot-long spaceliner will carry six passengers and two pilots.

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One Response to “Is your space voyage sooner than you think?”

  1. maxhowser Says:

    exhilarating and, at the same time, scary thought. if the cost is not

    too high, I’ll make my reservations. still think, though, that this kind

    of travel (ride?) is far in the future for us comman folk.

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