What a View! Space Bubbles Would Thrill Tourists

What a View! Space Bubbles Would Thrill Tourists
An artist's illustration of a new two-passenger vehicle designed to give panoramic views of Earth during suborbital flights. (Image credit: Rocket Racing League.)

The RocketRacing League is teaming up with a private aerospace company and the state ofNew Mexico to build a new fleet of suborbital spacecraft designed to give spacetourists a view of the Earth unlike any other.

Passengerswould be surrounded in a clear,bubble-like shell that gives a panoramic, 360-degree view of Earth andspace, rather than be limited by the round window portals offered by otherprivate spaceflight efforts, the league announced Friday.

The racingleague accounted the plan with New Mexico and the Mesquite, Texas-based firmArmadillo Aerospace today during the Northrop Grumman LunarLander Challenge in Las Cruces, NM, where the private space shots wouldblast off from Spaceport America.

Under thejoint venture, ArmadilloAerospace and the racing league would build a fleet of vertical launch andlanding spacecraft capable of flying two passengers on suborbital spaceflights.

Ticketswill cost about $100,000, about half that set for rides on billionaire SirRichard Branson?s VirginGalactic spaceliners, league officials said. Passengers would likely launchinto suborbital space about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth and experience atleast a few minutes of weightlessness before beginning their descent under the plan.

"Theprice of space is coming down to Earth," said Granger Whitelaw, ChiefExecutive Officer of Rocket Racing Inc., in a statement. "And thanks toArmadillo's ships and New Mexico's spaceport, human beings will be treated tothe most stellar views in the galaxy."

Led by videogame developer John Carmack, Armadillo Aerospace is one of two teams competingin the Challenge, which offers up to $2 million in prize money for successfuldemonstration of mock moon landers capable of vertical takeoffs and landings.The X Prize Foundation oversees the Lunar Lander Challenge for NASA?sCentennial Challenges program, which provides the prize money.

The RocketRacing League formed in 2005 to offer aerial NASCAR-style rocket races with sixteams currently on its roster. The league held its inaugural demonstrationflights earlier this year. Armadillo Aerospace is one of two firms providingengines for the league?s racers. XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., alsodeveloped a rocket engine used by the Rocket Racing League.

Otherprivate suborbital space tourism efforts, such as Virgin Galactic and the Lynxspacecraft under development by XCOR, offer rides aboard ground- or-air-launched spaceships that land on runways like an aircraft.

Prototypes for the newvertical launch and landing spacecraft could be ready by 2009, with initialmanned flight tests slated for 2010, league officials said. In addition tospace tourism jaunts, the new vehicles could also be used to launchmicrogravity experiments or serve as a platform for astrophysics,reconnaissance or high-altitude meteorological observations, they added.

"I amhonored that Rocket Racing, Inc. and Armadillo Aerospace have chosen New Mexicoto set up shop," said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in a writtenstatement. "Spaceport America and the state of New Mexico are proudpartners and together we are writing the next chapter of spacetransportation."

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Clickhere for updates from the Lunar Lander Challenge or watch the live webcast:http://space.xprize.org/webcast 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.