As the commercial space race hots up, the retail giant which is Amazon has thrown its hat firmly into the ring. The founder and CEO of the company, Jeff Bezos, has been involved in the launching of a capsule to the edge of the earth's atmosphere very recently. This is a significant first step towards the overall goal of the private company owned by Bezos eventually launching human beings into space.
Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle launched from western Texas to an altitude of more than 58 miles, and Bezos reported on the website of the project that any astronauts on board the craft would have had a pleasant journey into space followed by a smooth return to terra firma.
The New Shepard project is the precursor to a much larger orbital rocket and spacecraft which the Amazon founder intends to develop and launch from Cape Canaveral in the foreseeable future. Sites in other states are also being considered as Bezos continues to develop his space project.
As New Shepard develops, it is just the latest in a line of companies currently working on a providing commercial space travel. Probably the most notable and prominent of these have been Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which has been mooted to launch before the end of the decade. Underlining the complexity of delivering commercial space travel, it should be pointed out that this still represents something of a delay from Branson's initial bullish sentiments.
Virgin Galactic Issues
At one time, it was expected that Virgin Galactic would already be operating space flight by now. However, technical difficulties and the fallout from the VSS Enterprise crash have scuppered this hope. The catastrophic in-flight breakup and crash in the Mojave Desert of the VSS Enterprise was the biggest problem that any commercial space flight company has had to deal with thus far, with the incident naturally making huge media headlines.
Nonetheless, Branson has indicated that he strongly intends to continue with the commercial space flight programme, and there are plenty of others seemingly ready to join him in this venture. Ultimately, although the VSS Enterprise incident garnered a good deal of attention at the time, there is no compelling reason to believe that spaceflight is more dangerous than other forms of transport.
1.5 million people are killed on the roads worldwide every year, this is pretty much accepted as a mundane statistic, and most people rarely even contemplate the danger of travelling in motor vehicles. Unfortunately, the dramatic nature of space and plane crashes means that they will always receive a disproportionate amount of attention. But this is extremely unlikely to dissuade anyone with a serious intention of flying into space from doing so, much as plane crashes rarely stop people from going on holiday.
But another serious consideration for space tourism in the short to medium-term is the expense involved. Because make no mistake…this is an extremely expensive form of travel.
Commercial Space Flight Pricing
Although the final pricing for commercial flights has not yet really been established, Virgin Galactic has already been selling tickets for their purported flights which have been retailing at £130,000 ($200,000 / €180,000). The Bezos-funded project has yet to announce the pricing of tickets for its flights, but it is suggested by estimates that it will be extremely similar to Virgin Galactic.
One area where New Shepard does differ from the Virgin Galactic scheme is in the way that the craft actually rises into the outer atmosphere. While Virgin Galactic is reliant on using a plane to slowly rise out of the earth's atmosphere, New Shepard takes off straight up and lands right back on the ground. The technique involved in the New Shepard approach is referred to as vertical takeoff, vertical landing, and people affiliated with this project have claimed that it provides an even more authentic space travelling experience.
As reported by the Digital Tourism Think Tank previously, another notable space tourism project is that of World View. This company is examining a unique way of developing space tourism, with the methodology reliant on huge helium balloons as opposed to rockets. It can reportedly transport six passengers and crew members as high as twenty miles into the sky in a capsule. It is also significantly more affordable than either the Branson or Bezos-driven project, with tickets mooted to be around one-third to one-quarter of the price of Virgin Galactic.
Although space tourism will remain very much a niche project for the immediate future, and no-one quite knows when the first commercial space flights will take place, it is clearly a technology which is developing rapidly. If space is the final frontier, then it is one that is about to be breached by at least some fortunate members of the public, and this may one day become feasible for people from all backgrounds.
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