The future of space tourism
Planet hopping is not reserved to science fiction films anymore. (Bjorn Holland/Getty)
Excalibur Almaz is a suitably fantastical name for a company that recently announced it plans to offer passenger flights to the moon. The Isle of Man-based company has purchased four disused Russian space capsules and two space stations which, it hopes, will be used to propel paying passengers into lunar orbit as early as 2015.
Ambitious? Absolutely. They’re in good company, however, with Russia’s Soyuz and Virgin Galactic flights potentially taking tourists to the heavens in 2014 and 2013 respectively.
I asked space expert Graham Southorn, editor of the BBC’s Focus magazine, about the likelihood of future success for these space tourism providers – and this is what he had to say.
Richard Branson’s Virgin megaempire is planning to launch its space branch – its suborbital craft SpaceShip Two, launched from a mothership aircraft, will fly up to 99 miles, just at the boundary of space. Passengers can expect to pay around £125,000 for the trip. There is no definitive date set yet, but it is currently slated for next year.
Graham’s verdict: “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s late: Branson wants to make sure that it’s absolutely safe. I’m sure it will happen”.
The legendary Soviet spacecraft is following its own path to space tourism, via its Space Adventures. They sent out space tourists already from 2001 to 2009, and they may resume their travel business in 2014. Previous missions reached the International Space Station – at 230 miles into space – for £22,000,000 per person.
Graham’s verdict: “They already have a good track record with space tourists. They’re planning to offer a lunar trip soon too”.
The new company’s plan is to refit Soviet-era hardware, and launch it from Kazahstan with destination the moon. These lunar excursions will take passengers as high as 239,000 miles and will cost around £100,000,000. Reports point at launches as early as 2015.
Graham’s verdict: “I think these guys have got a lot of work to do. They’ll also need to pay for a rocket to launch their spacecraft”.
Tom Hall is Lonely Planet’s UK-based web editor. He’s also plotting to be the author of Lonely Planet’s first space guide.
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.