XCOR Announces Space Tourism Venture
Guy Norris

RocketShip Tours, a Phoenix, Ariz., based travel company will sell rides to the edge of space for $95,000 aboard the XCOR Aerospace's Lynx sub-orbital vehicle under a partnership deal announced here today.

The first passenger for the space tourism venture will be Danish investment banker Per Wimmer, a self-acknowledged "space enthusiast" who recently made the first tandem skydive over Mt. Everest. Initial passenger flights are expected to start in late 2011, following first flight in 2010.

XCOR president Jeff Greason says "at XCOR we are engineers ... so we always planned to be teaming with someone else to provide that [marketing] component. After a lot of study we found the best team that fits with us."

COR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson adds that 22 bookings have already been taken, "so we're already seeing a significant early demand." Nelson adds that business prospects remain bright despite the economic downturn. "There is still a certain segment of the economy that is still liquid enough and comfortable enough to do this."

RocketShip Tours founder Jules Klar, a travel industry entrepreneur specializing in luxury cruises and tours, says the partnership will "offer participants an out of this world experience -- a front row seat to the edge of space." Prospective passengers will pay an initial deposit of $20,000, which enables participation in the qualification program. The procedure will include a medical questionnaire and a screening. Instruction about life support systems, flight physiology, and the Lynx suborbital flight will also be provided. "We want to ensure the experience is as safe as possible and that people are adequately trained and prepared," he adds.

Lynx passengers will wear a spacesuit developed by Orbital Outfitters, a NASA spacesuit contractor. "Since this is a suborbital launch, training will require familiarization with the spacesuit and what will be experienced while sitting in the cockpit," Klar says. "We will provide deluxe accommodations for all those who share in 'The Right Stuff' experience. It's not just $95,000 and off you go into the 'wild blue yonder.'"

Klar adds that "we will use the existing travel agency network to sell seats on the Lynx," and the market will be developed by a new breed of travel specialists around the world, which Klar's organization will provide. "We will train them to become space travel specialists," he says.

Nelson says the agreement is a milestone in opening up space travel. "American entrepreneurs are succeeding - we are bringing down the cost of space flight and making it affordable. What is most astonishing is that competition has already reduced prices before a single vehicle has flown." The price is less than half that of the existing competition offered by Virgin Galactic which currently charges $200,000 for a ride.

Initial Lynx Mk.1 flights will reach an apogee of 38 miles (61 kilometers or 200,000 feet), and Mach 2 during a rocket-powered ascent from a runway take-off carrying one passenger and crew member. A later planned Lynx Mk.2 will be capable of reaching an altitude of 68 miles (110 kilometers or 360,000 feet). Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry two crew and six passengers from an air-launched start at 50,000 feet to an apogee of around 68 miles.

The typical Lynx Mk.1 flight this will involve taking-off from a conventional runway and accelerating in a powered climb to engine cut-off at around 3 minutes into the flight at an altitude of 138,000 feet. The vehicle will then coast upwards until reaching apogee.

The expected weightless period is just two minutes for this flight profile before re-entry begins, with a max g at pull-out of around 4 gs. Maximum weight at engine ignition is expected to be 12,100 pounds, dropping to 3,850 pounds by landing. Total flight time will be around 30 minutes. The company plans to run up to four flights per day, and says flight frequency will be a key to the revenue-earning potential of the venture, compensating for the single-passenger load factor.

Artist's concept: XCOR