There have been many years of false promises and inflated expectations, but 2021 promises to be the famous “now goes” of space tourism.
Remember: there are two modalities in development, suborbital and orbital. The first is just an ascent from Earth’s atmosphere, up to 80-100 km, followed by a descent. A few minutes in weightlessness and a view of the earth from space. At the top are two companies serving this market: Virgin Galactic by Richard Branson and Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos.
Last Saturday (22), Virgin Galactic conducted another manned test of its ship, the VSS Unity. With movable wings, it is taken by an airplane 15 km high, from where it fires its rocket engine to get to the edge of space before returning and landing like a glider. The company has been selling ticket reservations (with a ticket valued at $ 250,000) for many years, but there is still no date for the start of commercial flights.
Blue Origin has developed a more conventional model with a capsule called the New Shepard that flies on a rocket. After separation, the reverse-propelled missile lands and the capsule parachute descends. The manned flight model carried out two tests this year on January 14th and April 14th and marks its first manned flight for July 20th. The company is not yet selling tickets, but is auctioning a seat on that maiden flight, and bids have already exceeded $ 2.8 million. Its capsule is higher and exceeds 100 km (the so-called Kármán line, one of the arbitrary definitions of where space begins).
While these two vie for the suborbital market, things in the orbital realm – for wealthier customers – are moving even faster. It is true that we have had tourists on the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz ships on occasion, starting with tycoon Dennis Tito, who paid $ 20 million for the trip in 2001. But see how things have changed now.
In September, a Crew Dragon capsule from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company will be launched into space with four crew members on a completely private mission, Inspiration4. You are not going to go to the International Space Station but are selling 100% private missions.
In October, a Russian film director and an actress have to fly to the International Space Station in a Soyuz. And then, in December, also in a Soyuz, the Japanese Yusaku Maezawa and a film producer will come to the station. And then, in January 2022, we will have the Axiom 1 mission, another 100% private mission loaded on a Crew Dragon.
For those struggling, Boeing will fly an unmanned flight of its Starliner capsule in July and then transport professional astronauts to the station – and of course compete for a spot in the sun in this emerging market for private spaceflight. It looks like it’s real now.
This column is published in Folha Corrida on Mondays.
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