Space tourism race takes off as rocket company offers half price tickets

By Mark Prigg and Daily Mail Reporter

The space tourism race has gathered pace as a second company offered suborbital tickets at half the price of Virgin Galactic.

Aerospace company Xcor has partnered with Jules Klar, long-time tour operator and co-creator of the 1960s-era ‘Europe on $5 a Day’ guides, to sell rides aboard its Lynx spaceship for just £64,000.

Tourists will shoot to the limits of Earth’s atmosphere in the two-seater Lynx craft and experience a minute of weightlessness on the half-hour jaunt.

Test flights are scheduled for 2010, with paid flights expected to begin by 2011.


Banker Per Wimmer has paid £50,000 for a ticket on board the two-seater
Lynx craft which will fly at 200,000 feet before gliding back to earth

Virgin Galactic expects to begin test flights in 2009 or 2010, with commercial service after that.

More than 200 would-be passengers have put down deposits of at least £13,500 since tickets first went on sale in 2005.

Xcor’s first customer, Danish investment banker Per Wimmer, said: ‘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.’

Unlike rival schemes such as Virgin Galactic, the Lynx will take off and land under its own power - four jet engines - reaching Mach 2 before gliding back to earth

Mr Wimmer, who runs investment bank Wimmer Financial and lives in Islington, said he hoped the flight would allow him to see the earth from the edge of space.

'It's the view of the earth I'm really looking forward to, I think it will be an unforgettable experience to see the dark of space against the curve of the earth,' he said.

Mr Wimmer, 40, is working with London charities and schools to raise awareness of space.

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.

Although several tourists have paid to visit the Russian Soyuz space capsule, it cost them millions of pounds. The new breed of space sightseers will pay much less.

'Our mission is to radically lower the cost of spaceflight,' said Xcor chief executive Jeff Greason.

'We have designed this aircraft to operate like a commercial aircraft.'

The firm is expected to undercut rivals with its flights. Virgin Galactic charges £135,000 and is also set to launch in 2010.

Lynx passengers will fly in the cockpit with a former space shuttle commander by their side. Richard Searfoss, a retired Air Force colonel and astronaut who made three spaceflights before leaving NASA in 1998, is XCOR's pilot.

The actual trip to an altitude of 38 miles is high enough to escape much of earth's atmosphere but not high enough to go into orbit.

It takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish, but Klar said the package also includes five nights at a luxury retreat in Arizona, where the space tourists will be prepared for the journey and receive medical checkups.

Passengers will experience about a minute of weightlessness, but unlike Virgin's fliers, they will be strapped down and wearing pressurized spacesuits.

Travelers will be able to look out from wide cockpit windows to view Earth below.