New Frontier: How much is a ticket to space?
A man first entered Space 57 years ago. Over the last few decades businessmen felt Space had a potential — especially those missions flying a human. Several companies are promising to launch space tourism projects in 2018.
Since the first Space flight in 1961 only three nations were able to implement manned spaceflight missions — USSR, USA and lately China. So far the total amount of humans went to Space didn’t exceed 600 even.
12 April 1961 — Yuri Gagarin has demonstrated the orbital flight — by then the only way to travel in Space. Shortly next to him, on the 6 May 1961, Alan Shepard has tried another option making a short-time Space visit: the suborbital flight by the ballistic trajectory. The US could perform the orbital flight on 20 February 1962 with John Glenn being a first American astronaut. After three years Alexey Leonov became the first human to conduct extravehicular activity, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for a 12-minute spacewalk.
The space industry development went into two major directions: interplanetary missions (a Moon programm, for example) and extended orbital space station activities. A special type of a craft was designed to perform a “Moon landing”. It featured a landing module combined with a launch system to make the return to the orbit possible. During Apollo missions, USA sent manned missions and the first man stepped on the Moon’s surface was American — Neil Armstrong.
The orbital stations were first introduced in the 1970-s and none of them has ever left the low Earth orbit. Soviet Union had two stations — Salyut and then Mir. United States operated the Skylab station.
Since the second half of 1970-s, the manned space programms of the two countries went different ways. USSR has developed a 3-seat Soyuz spacecraft to serve its stations. Russia still operates one. The US began developing a reusable Space Shuttle system to perform transport and cargo missions and being a short-time space station at the same time.
Both countries used their equipment to send crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). It’s first section was put into orbit in 1998; the ISS is a truly international project of Russia, USA, Japan, Canada and ten EU countries representing the European Space Agency.
After US had stopped the Space Shuttle programm, Russia is the only country able to send spacemen into space onboard its Soyuz spacecrafts. This vehicle has undergone numerous modifications, the newest version flying is Soyuz MS. NASA has to pay roughly $70 million for each seat. The current agreement expires in 2018 with a total figure spent as $1 billion.
The US-made spaceships are still not there.The winners of NASA tender — Boeing and SpaceX with contracts for $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion respectively — were initially talking about 2017, then 2018. Maybe even 2019. US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is already hitting the panic button asking NASA if they had a Plan B in case American manufacturers to delay again. GAO has released the recent report, giving advice to NASA to buy additional “tickets” on Soyuz spacecrafts to keep the US presence on the ISS.
In 2017, the US President Donald J.Trump has increased NASA’s budget making it $19.5 billion. Some part of it will go to the deep Space exploration, making a Mars mission a priority for Americans. NASA plans to send its people to Mars in the 2030-s.
China is willing to spend on Space too. They never tell exact amounts, some media evaluates the Chinese Space investments as much as $6 billion a year. In terms of spendings, China is the second after USA - even EU’s budget small enough to compete.
Despite sending its first man in Space in 2003 and launching its first station in 2011, China is already a Space nation. At the moment, there’re 11 spacemen an two stations on Chinese account. Both spacecraft designs — Shenzhou and Tiangong share a Soviet-technology DNA, but are deeply re-engineered by Chinese scientists and constructors.
In 2013, China has managed to successfully reach the Moon surface with its robotic Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover. During its lunar residency, the rover became a social media sensation in China: its farewell post on Weibo received nearly a hundred thousand shares, likes, and comments, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Expected, China will be able to send it’s men to the Moon before 2036.
It’s not just countries willing to leave the Earth gravity. The recent NASA’s report listed about a dozen of private companies investing in Space. There are several directions: the production and launching the satellites, the Moon and asteroids exploration, design and construction of spacecrafts and rocket systems.
The space tourism is something different too. Dennis Tito pioneered the game in 2001, flying to ISS for $20 million he paid to Roscosmos and Space Adventures company. His flight has encouraged entrepreneurs, enough to make them thinking about the Space tourism as a profitable business.
Seven more people could make it to the ISS as a Space tourists. So far, the list is complete. No other option of getting up there has been proposed. But, a lot of work is being done to make the dream of many a reality. It feels that we’re close. At least three companies has declared they would be ready to send a human into Space as soon as in 2018.
Two companies — Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are aimed to cover the suborbital flights niche not exceeding 100 km altitude. These flights are times cheaper than the flight to the ISS, but a tourist can look at the Earth from the edge of Space and have a several minute zero-gravity experience.
Virgin Galactic is the most prominent Space tourism project, driven by the Richard Branson’s personality. He’s calling people to fly, having declared that he himself will fly the first flight with his family onboard.
According to the latest count on Virgin Galactic's website, only 558 people have been to space, making it a highly sought-after but elite destination. Virgin Galactic uses a principle of air launch: the airplane-carrier brings the spaceship to the high altitude then a craft would turn its rocket engine to “jump” to the edge of Space. Six passengers can be flown at a time.
According to 2014 information, Branson sold about 700 tickets, $250,000 each. Virgin had to move the official programm start several times. In October 2014 its test aircraft crashed killing a pilot. No confirmed dates were proposed after the crash and those willing to fly shrunken down to 500 people. Branson is optimistic, declaring the first flight to take off in 2018.
With a less PR-support, Blue Origin goes straight forward, all deadlines met. The “New Shepard” reusable system from Blue Origin consist soft two elements: the launch vehicle and controlled passenger capsule designed to carry six passengers. In 2017 the company unveiled the capsule’s interior photos underlining that all six travellers to be granted a window seat. The “largest available windows in Space”.
Blue Origin has successfully tested the “New Shepard” during several automatic flights. The next step is a manned test flight. The plan is to do as much as 100 suborbital flights a year. The cost of the ticket was never announced, different sources evaluate it as $100,000 — $200,000. All details are available at the Blue Origin’s website.
The third enterprise planning to send a man in Space in 2018 is the Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The company announced a week-long flight around the Moon. Two persons confirmed their seats having already paid a significant deposit to do a mission, says SpaceX.
Any exact amounts are hidden in the dark. SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the Moon and return to Earth. Lift-off will be from Kennedy Space Centre’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral – the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions.
The plan is to use Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon 2 spacecraft. The same spacecraft SpaceX builds on NASA’s money for transportation to the ISS. The spacecraft was never tested in the real flight but SpaceX is optimistic: the Falcon Heavy’s first flight demonstrated it’s performance. When the flight finally happen, it’s going to be the first private Moon mission in the history of mankind.