The future of far-out holidays

In five years of space tourism, only five people have ever blasted off. But don't rule out your chances of following them, says Danny Bradbury

It would seem that money can't buy you love, but it can buy you a great view. Five years ago today, California millionaire Dennis Tito paid for a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket that took him for a stay on the International Space Station. Tito became the first paying astronaut - but what about the rest of us? Five years on, are we any closer to swapping our sun hats for space helmets?

Some others have followed Tito. South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth made the trip a year later, and US millionaire Gregory Olsen was space cadet number three. Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto is next up this September, followed by Charles Simonyi, a former development guru at Microsoft. None of these people is poor - each forked out around $20m for an eight-day trip.

Still, even at those prices, things have moved on a great deal since the Cold War, when space exploration was dominated by big government. The Apollo moon programme cost $100bn in 1990s money. Today's entrepreneurs hope to use private-sector efficiencies to slash prices for space tourism in the next few years.

"The private sector is motivated by profit and efficiency and the US government often is not," says Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures, which arranged flights for the five intrepid travellers who have made the voyage into space so far. But then, if it wasn't for big, heavy government technology, Anderson wouldn't be taking tourists into space at all. Space Adventures brokers deals between wealthy tourists and the Russian authorities, buying them spare seats on existing Soyuz flights.

And it's little wonder Anderson is hitching a ride rather than building his own vehicles. Spacecraft must accelerate to 17,400mph to get into orbit, and survive extreme heat on re-entry.

A cheaper alternative attracting research and development from private companies is suborbital space travel. Suborbital craft still make the 100km (62 mile) trip into space, but they don't get far enough to make it into a self-sustaining orbit. Rather, they travel for a short time before gliding back to earth. The difference between orbital and suborbital flight is huge; suborbital craft need to reach only 3,000mph.

Virgin Galactic was set up by the Virgin Group in 2004 with the aim of beginning commercial suborbital flights in 2008. It is ploughing $240m into space tourism and has pocketed $14m in deposits from 158 would-be astronauts.

Last June, Virgin Galactic formed the SpaceShip Company, a joint venture with the aerospace company Scaled Composites, headed by Burt Ratan. Ratan made history in October 2004 when his suborbital vehicle, SpaceShipOne, became the first manned private craft to make it into space. By doing so, Ratan won the $10m Ansari X prize, an award funded by private donors who wanted to mirror the practice of encouraging early aviation innovators with the lure of prizes.

The SpaceShip Company now plans to sell SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots. Virgin ordered five of them, along with two of the 757-sized launch carriers that carry the craft aloft before launching them into space.

In the meantime, Blue Origin is working on another suborbital craft. The company, founded by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, will develop a series of crewed launch vehicles that will take off and land vertically. Expect flights in as little as five to six years.

But these craft don't make it into full orbit, which is bad news for Mike Gold, corporate counsel for Bigelow Aerospace, the skyward-looking venture of hotelier Robert Bigelow. Bigelow is moving into space accommodation with a series of pods that can be flown into space and inflated. The pods will keep out space radiation with walls a foot thick.

Bigelow is said to be spending £280m on the project, but if the means of getting his guests into space doesn't take off soon, his business could end up looking deflated. "We hoped that by the time we were getting within view of deploying our technology, the launch industry, whether X-33 or some sort of single-stage-to-orbit system, would have been well along the way, or that Soyuz prices would have dropped dramatically," says Gold.

The X33, a wedge-shaped successor to the Space Shuttle being developed by Lockheed Martin, would have been a completely reusable orbital craft - the holy grail for orbital flight. Generally rockets carrying a heavy payload shed it in three stages as they climb into orbit.

And SpaceX, owned by PayPal founder Elon Musk, wants to make conventional rocket designs cheaper using simpler engine models and reusable rocket stages that will be recovered after launch. "By starting a greenfield company, we can do it more efficiently," says president Jim Maser.

By piggy-backing on Soyuz missions, Space Adventures is at a disadvantage, warns Maser. As it doesn't own the technology, its costs could rise. Eric Anderson admits that costs are unlikely to fall soon, but SpaceX also has its problems. Falcon 1, its unmanned test craft, failed shortly after liftoff. Undeterred, the firm has planned more flights with commercial cargo, culminating in a manned mission on Falcon 9.

Suborbital space flight is a hotbed of innovation, but further out, progress has stalled. Here, tourists are riding the technology that fuelled Cold War nuclear missiles. Sightseers may look down on a brave new world, but for the time being, the technology that got them there comes from a much older one.

Final frontier: the facts about space tourism

SHORT STAYS

A suborbital flight will take you into space 62 miles above the earth's surface for a short period. Virgin Galatic's flights, using SpaceShipTwo, will lift off from the Mojave desert until its New Mexico spaceport is complete in 2009.

Expect to pay $200,000 for a two-hour flight, during which you'll get five minutes of weightlessness. Virgin is planning a spaceport in Europe for trips through the northern lights.

In the future, Space Adventures promises you an exciting boost with the powerful rocket engines of a suborbital craft called Xerus, currently under development by aerospace company XCOR Aerospace. When the craft reaches its maximum 62-mile height, you'll get five minutes of weightlessness.

Space Adventures is the cheapest option for space day-trippers on a budget: $102,000 will get you up there in the Xerus. That includes $98,000 for the flight, with $4,000 for a cancellation plan. But don't worry - you can pay $1,000 per month for three years with a final lump sum payment.

EXTENDED VISITS

For the moment, Space Adventures has the monopoly on orbital space travel. After being medically certified, you will train at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre 90 minutes from Moscow. Expect zero gravity sessions, physical instruction and survival training. You will orbit the earth every 90 minutes, and will have 30 hours in the orbiter before your rendezvous with the International Space Station.

By the time you leave the space station eight days later, you'll have been around the world 120 times. The cost: $20m.

ACCOMMODATION

Right now, there's only one option for accommodation, outside of your orbiter module: the International Space Station. Living alongside the crew for eight days, you'll eat space food, live in weightlessness and orbit 250 miles above the earth.

Budget hotelier Robert Bigelow could provide another option. When inflated, his hotel podsshould be as large as a three-bedroom house.

BUDGET OPTIONS

Space Services Inc has booked payload space on low-cost SpaceX flights and will transport your ashes into space. A gram of you can be taken into orbit for $995. Customers include actor James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek.

CONTACTS

www.spaceadventures.com; www.xcor.com; www.virgingalactic.com; spaceflight.nasa.gov/station;

www.bigelowaerospace.com; www.spaceservicesinc.com; www.spacex.com

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit