1 June 2005
Other - Other (None)
Not the Only Taxi
Whistling for the next cab
by G B Leatherwood
by G.B. Leatherwood

Whistle for a cab. The next one in line whips up. Yellow? Checker? Ajax? Which one do you take?

The next one in line.

Now the scene changes to a space voyage. We saw all the coverage of the Ansari X-Prize and we know that Burt Rutan, Scaled Composites, and their crew caught the brass ring: they collected $10 million, and now have a contract with Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic to design and build a five-passenger version of SpaceShipOne to lift us ordinary folk to the fringes of space. For a price. Not $20 million, but closer to $200,000.

But wait! Is this the only taxi at the stand?


With all the attention grabbed by Rutan and Branson, one might think that SpaceShipTwo or Three will be the ones we would be most likely to take our first trip off the planet in.

However, at least two other former Ansari X-Prize competitors have announced definite plans for their first commercial flights—complete with proposed ticket prices and launch dates. And even others are still in the game.

First, former X-Prize competitor Bill Sprague and his firm AERA Corp. plan to launch their first suborbital flight by December 2006, with ticket prices set at $250,000 per seat. Their vehicle, named “Altairis,” will carry six passengers, launch vertically, and land horizontally. Passengers will get to spend about 40 minutes in the journey to the fringe of space.

Second, in his May 17, 2005 Space.com article “Spaceflight Partners to Offer Public Suborbital Flights by 2007,” science writer Tariq Malik describes the work being done by the London, Ontario-based Canadian Arrow team, also an entrant in the X-Prize competition. Malik quotes Canadian Arrow leader Geoff Sheerin saying as early as last August that “…Canadian Arrow was just $2 million away from making its first launch.” Canadian Arrow ticket prices will be around $250,000.

Third, Poway, California-based SpaceDev, led by CEO Jim Benson, has announced that it has nearly completed a NASA-funded study into potential designs for suborbital and orbital spacecraft. The firm will also build their own vehicle, named “Dream Chaser,” a hybrid-engine propelled spacecraft designed for six people. Initial suborbital tests are planned for 2008, with piloted tests slated by 2010.

Fourth, not to be left behind, the Toronto-based da Vinci Project and Rocketplane, Ltd. of Oklahoma, are working hard on their own versions of tourist vehicles.

Canadian Arrow leader Sheerin and internet and telecommunications entrepreneur Chirinjeev Kathuria have formed PLANETSPACE, a new firm that will not only build and launch a passenger-carrying suborbital spacecraft but also extend into other mediums as well. “We definitely want to be the first to offer suborbital flights…[but] I think there is room out there for more than one company. No one company is going to be able to fulfill the demand.” (SPACE.com., 5/17/05, ibid.)

Taxi, anyone?
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G B Leatherwood 1 June 2005
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