You may be counting days for travel restrictions to ease so you can resume vacationing at your favorite resort, but how about aiming for a trip to space? Space tourism and commercial spaceflight are expected to become a reality as early as this year. Several companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Boeing, are either already selling seats to private customers, or poised to do so (The Astronomy).
SpaceX is planning to send up to four private citizens into space to take a trip around Earth sometime at the end of 2021 or in early 2022. SpaceX has just fired up its newest Starship prototype for the second time, continuing the vehicle’s test-flight prep (Space.Com). The company already sold a Starship flight around the Moon to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. While the exact price of the ticket is unknown, CEO Elon Musk noted that it was enough to help partially pay for the development of the vehicle (CNBC, The Astronomy).
For those without such astronomical wealth, more economical options may be available as well, albeit for far briefer experiences. Companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are offering the opportunity to experience a few minutes of weightlessness in the space for up to 250,000 dollars (The Atlantic). While the charge is hardly cheap, it is perhaps the most accessible option, with Blue Origin announcing they plan to fly customers multiple times a week.
Blue Origin is a private space company-funded almost entirely by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (CNBC). Having initially planned to send passengers into space in 2020, Blue Origin is pushing back the first launch of its New Glenn rocket to late 2022 (Axios and SpaceNews). Meanwhile, the company has announced that it will soon start selling tickets. However, Bezos has admitted to loftier goals; in an interview with Wired, the billionaire shared his aspirations of creating a space station to orbit Earth in which humans could “re-create cities, national parks, even famous sites.”
Virgin Galactic is planning to begin regular flights on its spaceship called Unity as early as this year. More than 600 people have already purchased tickets at the price of USD 250,000. To sign up to put your name on the waiting list, you are required to make a USD 1,000 deposit. The first traveler on Unity? The company says its CEO Richard Branson will be the first private citizen to travel on Unity (The Astronomy).
Space tourism may not remain the exclusive domain of European or U.S. companies. China’s private space industry is thriving, just in January sending a commercial rocket into low Earth orbit. For the past two decades, China’s national program has openly attempted to dethrone private U.S. enterprises to earn the title of the world’s dominating space power. Unlike in the West, China’s space activity seems to be government-mandated. This 21st-century space-race will result in a stronger push to opening space tourism for all, or at least those that can afford it (MIT Technology Review).