The scrappy space start-up Xcor Aerospace is ready to begin selling tickets to tourists who have a hankering to soar 37 miles up to the edge of space, the company announced today. It also presented its first paying customer, whom they hope to send up in 2011: Danish investment banker Per Wimmer, who will pay $95,000 for his suborbital flight. Wimmer seems enthusiastic about Xcor’s plans, but he’s certainly hedging his bet. He is so keen to leave earth’s atmosphere that he has bought another two tickets to space, one with Virgin Galactic and one with rival firm Space Adventures. “It will be a real race to see which of them goes up first – but if it is Xcor, I will become the first affordable space tourist,” he said [Daily Mail].
In the small world of private space companies, Xcor is considered a cheap, no-frills provider. The announced ticket price is about half the $200,000 cost of a suborbital flight aboard Virgin Galactic‘s deluxe SpaceShip Two. That vehicle is expected to bring six passengers aloft at a time, and may let them float around the cabin during the five minutes of weightlessness they’ll experience at the apogee of their flight, 62 miles above the earth’s surface. In contrast, Xcor’s small suborbital vehicle, the Lynx, is a two-seater, and the one paying passenger will stay strapped into the copilot’s seat.
The company believes its relatively small and simple vehicle is an asset, says Xcor spokesman Douglas Graham. “When people first look at this they say, ‘How are you going to make any money?’” The concept is quite simple: You gas up and go. Graham said the company plans to be able to turnaround and fly its kerosene-and-liquid oxygen-fueled vessel four times a day. Lynx, which takes off and lands like an airplane, doesn’t need a launch pad or a tow into the air to get going. “As long as you have good airspace and a 10,000-foot runway, you can fly them anywhere,” Graham said [Discovery News]. Virgin Galactic’s larger vehicle will be brought to an altitude of 50,000 feet by a “mothership” before disengaging and starting its rockets.
The first space tourists have all spent millions to book flights with Space Adventures, which buys seats on the Russian Soyuz rocket to bring the customers all the way to the International Space Station. The companies jockeying to be first to send tourists on cheaper, faster suborbital trips have had to design and build their vehicles from scratch, and all of the companies have found it slow going. But Xcor believes that numerous would-be Lynx passengers are waiting, fueled by their desire for the best view (and tourist snapshot) ever. “We believe … it’s almost a philosophical change that happens once you’ve seen the Earth from this level. It will be a life-changing experience,” Graham said [Discovery News].
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Image: Xcor Aerospace