Saturday science subject: Space tourism

— 11:11 AM on June 23, 2007

U.S. companies like the Virgin Group have made no secret of their interest in commercial space tourism, but folks on the other side of the pond are also keen to tap into that market. EADS Astrium, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, has announced plans to have a tourist space plane up and running in just five years. As the New Scientist reports, development work on the aircraft is expected to begin next year. Trips on board will last 90 minutes, include three minutes of weightlessness at an altitude of 100km (328,084 feet), and cost a hefty €150,000-200,000 (around $201,000-270,000).

The Astrium design would take off and land like a typical aeroplane, but at an altitude of about 12 kilometres, it would ignite rocket engines. It would take about a minute and a half to reach a height of 60 km, and then its rocket engines would be shut down and it would coast to an altitude of more than 100 km.

Small rocket thrusters would be used to control the craft's orientation in space, and once it had descended back into the Earth's atmosphere, its jet engines would once again be used for the landing. The whole trip would last about an hour and a half.

200 to 270 grand for a trip into space might seem exorbitant, but that's pocket change compared to the $25 million U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi paid for his trip aboard the Russian rocket Soyuz in April. EADS Astrium certainly believes its service will be successful—the firm expects to fly 15,000 people into space every year by 2020.
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