The New Space Race: Readying for Takeoff
The company is the brainchild of John Carmack, creator of the video games Doom and Quake. Carmack envisions a vertically launched one-passenger craft that might not rely on a human pilot.
The secretive company founded by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos is working on a vertically launched vessel that will hold at least three passengers. Bezos plans to build a flight testing facility on his 165,000-acre ranch in west Texas.
Masten Space Systems,
Santa Clara, Calif.
Masten intends to build a vessel, the XA 2.0, and offer suborbital flights reaching 500 kilometers (310 miles), an altitude that should allow passengers to experience as much as 10 minutes of weightlessness. masten-space.com
The firm expects to commence flights from a platform in Georgian Bay, on the Canadian side of Lake Huron, in late 2008. Its vertically launched vessel, the Arrow, will carry a pilot and two passengers, who will pay $250,000 for their tickets; later versions of the ship will carry four riders.
Rocketplane Kistler (RpK),
Oklahoma City, Okla.
RpK’s Learjet-based craft, the XP Spaceplane, will be launched horizontally and will seat one pilot and three passengers. The company claims that its plane will be constructed by December 2006 and will make its first commercial flight in late 2007.
The company that arranged Dennis Tito’s 2001 trip to the International Space Station will offer suborbital flights on a Russian-designed vessel, the Explorer, which will depart from a spaceport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) state of Ra’s al Khaymah. The spacecraft will seat four passengers and a pilot, and will operate in a manner similar to SpaceShipOne: A Russian M55 aircraft will carry the Explorer to an altitude of 20 kilometers (almost 12.5 miles), and the spaceship will continue from there. The cost of a ticket will be about $100,000.
Sierra County, N.M.
British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson hired Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites firm to build SpaceShipTwo, an enlarged version of the X Prize–winning vessel. Branson’s spacecraft will accommodate a maximum of eight people (six passengers and two pilots) and launch from a spaceport under construction in southern New Mexico. At present, the company claims to have 147 confirmed reservations and $13.1 million in deposits.
The company says that it has slightly more than half the funds it needs to proceed with production of Xerus, its one-passenger, one-pilot vessel.