Meet the frontrunners aiming for the stars in the space tourism race
These companies are all racing to send humans into the stratosphere and fulfil our intergalactic wanderlust.
Following two decades of rumours, test flights and fantastical projections, the world is finally approaching the reality of space tourism. In the last 12 months we've witnessed Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and the Blue Origin New Shepard rockets reach the edge of space, and seen a dummy ride a sports car further than the orbit of Mars. Is it our turn yet?
Maybe it's not too far away. As technology approaches new galaxies of its own, our planet's most ambitious entrepreneurs are entangled in a race to send tourists into orbit. If they get their way, our generation will one day pack its bags and head to Cape Canaveral to start our holidays.
So, strap yourself in and read on to discover the top companies vying to transform our childhood dreams into an astronaut reality.
Let's kick off the list with the company that has led the journey to recreational space travel since the early 21st century. Virgin Galactic is the brainchild of Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, and is the name that has fuelled space tourism hopes since its launch in 2004. After 14 years of rigorous testing and projections vaguer than Pluto's sense of identity, it appears that lift-off may be closer than ever.
In December 2018, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo passenger ship successfully reached the border of space, with two pilots and a mannequin (called Arnie) on board. On its route to a peak height of 82.7km, the ship reached speeds of over 2.9 times the speed of sound. The successful mission will come as good news to over 600 owners of a $250,000 (€219,092) ticket to space. In the words of Branson, "Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good."
This wouldn't be a sufficiently extravagant entrepreneur list without the presence of Elon Musk. The South African billionaire founded SpaceX in May 2002 with the intention of facilitating human settlement on Mars, and reducing the cost of space transportation. We're not sure if sending Starman the dummy around orbit in a sports car was on the agenda back in 2002, but it's such projects that have captured the imagination of space lovers.
In November 2018, SpaceX announced their first lunar tourism mission, which will see Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa embark on a six day trip on the company's BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) spacecraft. Maezawa will select up to eight artists to join him on the #dearMoon mission, free of charge, and hopes that the trip around the moon will inspire the next generation of art. The trip is expected to launch no earlier than 2023, and will follow the orbit path of Apollo 13's 1970 voyage.
Continuing the royal rumble of businessmen, please welcome Jeff Bezos to the ring. In 1999, the Amazon mogul watched space biopic October Sky and took the decision to create a new space company, Blue Origin. Bezos has admitted that he spends approximately one billion dollars per year on the company, funded by his Amazon stocks, but has reaped the rewards of several successful test flights of the New Shepard rocket already.
Most recently, in January, New Shepard successfully reached 106.9km above the Earth's surface a mere four minutes after take off. Three minutes later, it had successfully landed back on hard ground, having reached a top speed of 3,582kph (2,226mph).
The latest mission was a sign of things to come from Blue Origin and, according to Ariane Cornell, director of Astronaut & Orbital sales at Blue Origin, the company's space tourism service won't lack entertainment value. "We're going to let you unbuckle; I'll know I'll be doing my somersaults in there, before taking in those spectacular views out of the largest windows that have ever been to space," she said.
Tourist flights are expected to commence in 2020, and will cost approximately $250,000 (€219,092) per person.
With the majority of space travel talk orbiting the method of transportation, startup Orion Span have directed their attention towards the accommodation market instead.
The Aurora space station will be the world's first luxury space hotel, and will float 320km above the Earth. Now, we're no snobs when it comes to where we lay our heads at night, but the word 'luxury' is an interesting way to describe a six person cabin measuring 13m long by 4m wide. However, with a view of the whole Earth beneath you, who needs saunas and mini bars?
A week-and-a-half's stay at the Aurora hotel will cost approximately $9.500,000 (€8,338,767), with an initial $80,000 (€70,219) deposit. Should you wish to pay a visit to the Aurora, you'll have to wait until its doors open in 2022.
As their predecessors tease the world about what might be, Space Adventures is the only company that can concretely say that it has sent tourists into outer space.
In 2001, American businessman Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist following a reported $20,000,000 (€17,554,900) payment. Tito spent seven days and 22 hours at the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting the earth 128 times. Since that first mission, Space Adventures has sent a further seven tourists to the ISS, including Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté.
Unlike other companies, Space Adventures ensure their clients complete sufficient astronaut training before embarking on one of their missions. Training can last up to six months, and takes place at official NASA and Roscosmos bases alongside professional astronauts. Space Adventures' last tourist trip was in 2009, but the company is planning on conducting a circumlunar mission which will last 10 days.