Space Tourism Firm to Offer Suborbital Joy Rides at Lower Costs

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. (Image credit: Armadillo Aerospace)

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

The Virginia-based firm Space Adventures has signed anexclusive deal with Armadillo Aerospace, a Texas-based company founded bycomputer game entrepreneur John Carmack, to sell spacetourist seats on new suborbital rocket ships that are currently indevelopment at Armadillo.

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

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

And while the $102,000 price tag for one of Space Adventure'ssuborbital spaceflights may seem hefty, it is nearly $100,000 less than rivalcompany 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 SpaceAdventures. Anderson said he planned to release more details about the dealnext month at the International Space Development Conference in Chicago.

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

Space Adventures is the only company that has booked privateflights to the International Space Station. The company brokered those dealswith the Russian Federal Space Agency, charging customers about $35 million fora ride on Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. The most recent flight occurred inOctober 2009, and sent Canadian billionaire GuyLaliberte on an 11-day space excursion.

"A decade of research and development has gotten us tothe point where we can credibly talk about commercial passengerexperiences," 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 solidpartnership with Space Adventures to help us take things through to commercialoperation."

Armadillo Aerospace, a leading developer of reusablerocket-powered vehicles, also produces rocket engines for the X-racer aircraftused in the RocketRacing League, a planned drag-race in the sky among rocket-powered planes.

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

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