Armadillo has been signed by Space Adventures to provide vertical launch and land reusable launches to altitudes of at least 100 kilometres, including five minutes zero G ‘weightlessness’, for $US 102,000 including a $4000 deposit.
Virgin Galactic is selling a similar trajectory for $US 200,000 with a $20,000 deposit, which involves being flown to 15 kilometres altitude by a special lifter jet (above) inside a six place rocket that is then dropped and fired into space, to land Space Shuttle style on a runway.
This was foreshadowed last December when the road to Spaceport America from Truth or Consequences was finally sealed all the way to the New Mexico facility where the two competitors will launch their space joy flights.
But not until 2012, or 2013, or even 2014, once they have convinced the US safety authorities that they have all of the proven systems in place for safe spaceflight after several years of tests demonstrating that their craft can handle ‘normal’ as well as ‘uh oh’ situations.
Space Adventures has already made its mark organising orbital space tourism flights for the very rich and determined to the International Space Station using the Russian Soyuz heavy lifter rocket. These flights costs more than $US 20 million, and involve around six months cosmonaut training.
Rocket rides are to 21st century space transport what private joy flights were to the development of air transport in the 1920s. But somewhat more sensational, and costly.