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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing