What they say: “I’d offer you a pinnacle life event,” says XCOR chief operating officer, Andrew Nelson when I ask him what they’re selling. “I’d offer you excitement, I’d offer you adventure, I’d offer you some wonderful experiences…but really at the heart and soul of it we’d offer you the opportunity to explore who you are and what you’re made of.” And, he adds, in a gentle dig at his competitors: “you’re not at the back of the bus with windows, you’re right up front…if you get on an airplane and you’d rather turn to the left than the right, then you’re probably a good customer for us.”
Wow factor: 7/10
Warped factor: 8/10
Verdict: Virgin on steroids but you don’t get to float around the cabin. The plane hasn’t flown yet.
Mission: Delivering spaceflight experiences.
The experience: Space Adventures is the only company with a track record in space tourism. So far they’ve flown eight missions and seven astronauts (one person flew twice) to the ISS. Clients fly as passengers in Soyuz spacecraft alongside fully trained cosmonauts. Soyuz is the world’s most reliable – and now only –manned spacecraft.
Before being allowed to fly, you’ll have to pass tough medical exams and undergo months of training for Soyuz and the ISS. You may also have to learn Russian. Assuming you pass the tests, you’ll blast off – alongside two professional cosmonauts – from the historic Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
After a couple of days in orbit, your capsule will dock with the ISS and you’ll get to spend more than a week on board. Participants have used this opportunity to try experiments or work on education projects. Every astronaut who’s flown on the ISS has recommended spending as much time as possible looking out of the window at the Earth. Although you’ll be treated well by the professional astronauts and cosmonauts, Nasa has been quite disapproving of these flights in the past and this may cause you problems. When your time in orbit is at an end, you’ll return in the Soyuz capsule for a bumpy landing somewhere in Kazakhstan.
Space Adventures also offers parabolic “weightless” experiences in specially converted aircraft and is planning suborbital flights, as well as an ambitious mission beyond Earth orbit to circle around the Moon.
What they say: “You’re 250 miles above the Earth, going around the Earth every 90 minutes, an absolutely spectacular experience,” and with that, Tom Shelly, president of Space Adventures, really doesn’t have to add anything.
Cost: $50 million
Wow factor: 9/10
Warped factor: 7/10
Verdict: How much?!? You’ll have to commit to months of training. The only company that’s actually done it.
Mission: Engage, Explore, Inspire
The experience: extraordinary name, extraordinary plans. Excalibur Almaz Limited is a private company based on the Isle of Man – a small island off the west coast of Britain. Here, it has some serious ex-Russian space hardware including two space stations (similar to the Russian modules of the ISS) and four ex-Soviet military reusable space capsules.
This is no ordinary space tourism company, Excalibur Almaz plans to launch the first private space station and, by fitting its habitation modules with engines, to support expeditions around the Moon and even beyond. Each module is six times the size of Nasa’s Orion capsule, which will make them the biggest manned spacecraft ever launched.