Ready to boldly go where no tourists have gone before?

Start the countdown: the next jet-set era will be launching sooner than expected. Martin Hickman on the rush to venture into space

The reality of using space ships as we do passenger jets is merely a few years away, according to independent space agency analysts. Commercial operators are now locked in a private space race to operate scheduled services to the outer reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. Hundreds of wealthy entrepreneurs, celebrities and scientists have already booked tickets for the first flights by Sir Richard Branson's VirginGalactic space tourism business, which are predicted to be cleared for take-off in the next two years. Its new runway in New Mexico opened at the weekend.

Professor Richard Crowther, Technical Adviser to the UK Space Agency, predicted that future space missions would become a lot more regular and a lot cheaper.

"It will be very expensive to start off with, but the technology that will then develop will open up space to everybody," he told The Independent.

"You can imagine the early days of aviation, where very people went on aircraft, but now it's mass market. I suspect a mass market in taking people into space will be a long time coming, but the costs should fall with new craft."

Fewer than 500 people have flown into space onboard craft operated by Russia, the US and China. With the Cold War over, the US and Russia have lost the incentive to pour billions into space programmes and in February US President Barack Obama cancelled a Nasa project to the Moon, saying it was was too expensive and lacking in innovation.

But while the superpowers have stepped back, commercial concerns have moved in. One of them is Virgin Galactic, founded by the entrepreneur six years ago. Another is Blue Origin, started by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin says it is developing a rocket-propelled vehicle – the New Shepard – to "routinely fly multiple astronauts into suborbital space at competitive prices".

Another company, Space Adentures arranged for seven multi-millionaires to live on the Russian Soyuz space station for up to 15 days, paying $20m each.

According to VirginGalactic, 380 people have booked tickets on its VSS Enterprise at $200,000 a time. They include physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, climate change scientist James Lovelock, singer Sarah Brightman, comedian Russell Brand, designer Philippe Starck, Paypal founder Elon Musk and ex-Dallas actress Victoria Principal. Other travellers will be millionaire property developers, the Candy brothers. Nick Candy, who has brought three tickets so far – one for him and two as gifts for his brother Christian and Christian's wife Emily Crompton – said one of the advantages was that, unlike state astronauts, he would not have to undertake months of training.

"You will probably be weightless for six minutes. You will see the whole of Planet Earth. I have had some amazing experiences and hopefully this will be another one," he said.

He added: "Richard [Branson] and I are very close. He will make sure every test in the book has been passed. It's amazing a British brand like Virgin is doing this."

Virgin said space tourism had allowed scientific breakthroughs to take place without state subsidy. Existing spaceships were based essentially on Nazi V2 rocket techology, but Virgin's spacecraft was "a resuable system with minimal impact".

"There is a very low environmental impact," said Will Whitehorn, _Virgin Galactic's President. "We will, in a 10 year programme, fly tens of thousands of people into space with less impact than one Shuttle."

The flights will also be much cheaper: around £1m per flight, compared with £1bn for a US space shuttle flight. The reason is that the craft are much lighter than Nasa spaceships and can be re-used. A mothership, White Knight Two, made of lightweight carbon composite and powered by biobutanol, will carry the space rocket 10 miles high. The six-seater craft will then be thrust into space, fulled by nitrous oxide and recycled nylon, before gliding back to Earth in New Mexico.

Mr Whitehorn denied reports that the price would fall to $20,000. "I wouldn't think we will ever get it that low," he said, adding that it would become much cheaper than $200,000. "We hope within five or six years to get the price down to considerably lower than that; certainly below $100,000 after five or six years."

Professor Crowther said space tourism would benefit science by allowing experiments to be conducted on the Earth's upper atmosphere, cheaply, by "piggy-backing" commercial flights – which might help in the fight against climate change.

"It's a real market; it's a real technology. I think you have to see it in terms of the early aviation systems," he said. Asked if mass space tourism would take off, Mr Whitehorn said: "Yes. I really do and I think it's going to be very important to achieve.

"Only 500 people have been in space. We are going to carry more than that in year one. This will herald an industrial revolution in space."

So who has booked already?

Christian and Nick Candy

James Lovelock

Philippe Starck

Stephen Hawking

Sarah Brightman

Victoria Principal

Paypal founder Elon Musk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities