So You Wanna Be a Space Explorer? Sure Thing: Cash or Credit?

New competition in the space tourism industry could deliver on your dreams as soon as 2015

Move over, Sir Richard Branson. Someone else wants to play in your space sandbox. Thanks to a not-exactly-generous US$9.68 million injection from the EU, a new program is poised to offer competition to existing space-tourism services offered by Virgin Galactic, Xcor Aerospace, and Blue Origin. The funding will go toward the design, development and experimental validation of hybrid propulsion engines for the Future High-Altitude High-Speed Transport (FAST) 20XX program, which includes two separate “vomit comet” concepts. The first launch is scheduled within a decade.

Vomit comet #1 is projected for service in 2015 and will give astronaut wannabes a similar ride to Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital journey. That bird will piggyback on a specially designed jet carrier aircraft to 50,000 ft., detach, blast off at three times the speed of sound, let you experience a few minutes of weightlessness, then land you safely back home where a really, really, really big credit card bill will be waiting.

Vomit comet #2 is where things start to get a little more interesting…and long term. The 2075-ish SpaceLiner concept is designed for hypersonic point-to-point transport. In other words, your 23-hour flight from Berlin to Sydney will be cut down to 90 minutes. This 50-seat craft has you sitting on the launch pad in a nose-to-the-sky space-shuttle orientation, piggybacking on a winged droptank craft burning liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Emptied during boost phase, the droptank would either glide back to earth on its own or be captured mid-glide by a specially outfitted 747 and towed back for a runway landing. As far as SpaceLiner’s reentry, the plan is for “skip” breaking as opposed to the more purgatory-esque version used by the space shuttle.

And for you Nervous Nellies out there, you’ll be glad to know the designers have considered your safety with a “detachable passenger cabin in case of losing structural integrity.” Hopefully Sir Richard was this thorough with his plans.