Space Tourism Firm to Offer Suborbital Joy Rides at Lower Costs
Armadillo Aerospace, a leading developer of reusable rocket-powered vehicles, plans to build suborbital rocketships for space tourists that launch vertically.
Credit: Armadillo Aerospace

An American space tourism company that arranges multimillion-dollar treks to the International Space Station for the ultra-wealthy has struck a new deal to offer suborbital spaceflights for nearly half the going cost. The price is still steep though: $102,000 for the works.

The Virginia-based firm Space Adventures has signed an exclusive deal with Armadillo Aerospace, a Texas-based company founded by computer game entrepreneur John Carmack, to sell space tourist seats on new suborbital rocket ships that are currently in development at Armadillo.

Flights aboard Armadillo's vertically-launched rocket ship in development will depart from a spaceport in the U.S., and take passengers to regions above 62 miles (100 kilometers) ? where space begins. After the engine is shut down, those aboard will experience up to five minutes of continuous weightlessness and will have the opportunity to gaze out at 360-degree views into space and the Earth's horizon below.

The time in space will be a few short minutes, but the complete experience, including training, will last a few days.

And while the $102,000 price tag for one of Space Adventure's suborbital spaceflights may seem hefty, it is nearly $100,000 less than rival company Virgin Galactic's asking price for a seat on SpaceShipTwo, which is undergoing carry tests at the moment.

"I am very pleased to announce Space Adventures' agreement with Armadillo," said Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures. Anderson said he planned to release more details about the deal next month at the International Space Development Conference in Chicago.

"We envision this as a critical turning point for public access to space," Anderson said.

Space Adventures is the only company that has booked private flights to the International Space Station. The company brokered those deals with the Russian Federal Space Agency, charging customers about $35 million for a ride on Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. The most recent flight occurred in October 2009, and sent Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte on an 11-day space excursion.

"A decade of research and development has gotten us to the point where we can credibly talk about commercial passenger experiences," said John Carmack, president and CTO of Armadillo Aerospace. "Everything is coming together ? there is enough clarity in the technical, regulatory, and market factors that it is the right time to form a solid partnership with Space Adventures to help us take things through to commercial operation."

Armadillo Aerospace, a leading developer of reusable rocket-powered vehicles, also produces rocket engines for the X-racer aircraft used in the Rocket Racing League, a planned drag-race in the sky among rocket-powered planes.

The company has built rockets that launch and land vertically for competitions for prize money from NASA. In November 2009, Armadillo Aerospace took home second place and $500,000 in the NASA-sponsored contest to fly homemade rockets on mock moon-landing missions.

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