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Hank takes on the role of our personal space travel agent, giving us the dirt on the various ways in which the exceptionally wealthy will be able to travel to space in the next few decades.

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References for this episode can be found in the Google document here: http://dft.ba/-1j_9
Okay! So we're doing an episode on space tourism, so the obvious place to start is "Where can I buy my ticket?".

Well the answer to that question is "Russia", and I can go there and buy my ticket to space for 30 to 35 million dollars, and the vehicle would be the Russian Soyuz. My destination would be the International Space Station, where I can enjoy a week or two of weightlessness, and probably not being told to touch too much stuffs. And maybe vomiting.

Looking for something a little bit more affordable and short-term, you're gonna have to wait a year or two for that suborbital flight. But it is coming. I promise.

[intro music]

Hey, if you've got 30 million dollars to spend on a space-cation, why not spend 15 million more and take a 90-minute spacewalk while you're up there?

That's no joke, Space Adventures, the company that acts as the middleman for the ISS-bound space tourists, is currently marketing the opportunity of becoming the first private citizen to walk in space. 

It's all right there on the website, where you can also book passage on a voyage to the far side of the moon. That trip is scheduled tentatively for 2015. There are two seats, one has reportedly already been sold, and the other can be yours for a cool 150 million dollars.

Now, gazillionaires who can afford this kind of thing represent the first generation of space tourism. It started in 2011, when Dennis Tito paid 20 million dollars for a trip to the ISS. 

Over the past decade, he'd been followed by five other fantastically wealthy men and one woman. The most recent visitor was the founder of Cirque du Soleil, and he went up there in 2009.

But when we talk about the second generation of space tourism, generally defined as "short, suborbital flights to above 100 kilometers", we're talking about a new sort of adventure that's accessible to just the merely very rich, instead of the ridiculously, blindingly, disgustingly rich.

We're watching the birth of this new generation of space travel in real time, and it's kinda hard not to geek out about it.

Right now, there are no fewer than half a dozen companies developing vehicles for suborbital flights. Some of them you've heard of, but most remain pretty below the radar. And since this is all kinda new, let me be your personal space travel agent.

You've heard of Virgin Galactic, and you've heard of them because they're probably closer than anyone to ushering in the second generation of space tourism. They also own the technology to create SpaceShipOne, the first private piloted reusable spacecraft that made history in 2004 for winning the ten-million-dollar Ansari X Prize.

The SS1 used the two-stage launch system. First, a twin turbo jet carrier aircraft carried the SS1 to an altitude of about 50,000 feet. And then, a second-stage rocket carrying the pilot was released and began its final ascent after two to four minutes in space and glided down to Earth in a conventional runway landing. 

Virgin Galactic has taken that concept and made it bigger. 

Meet SpaceShipTwo. It can accommodate six passengers and two pilots and is larger enough to allow passengers to unbuckle their seat-belts and float around for those few glorious minutes of zero gravity.

SS2 will use a hybrid rocket engine similar to SS1's that uses nitrous oxide as an oxidizer, and a fuel made from a rubber compound.

Virgin said the engine is less expensive and safer than liquid-fuel engines which make really volatile liquid. Or solid rocket engines, which are basically like putting a match to a giant firework filled with a solid mixture of fuel oxidizer. 

In May of 2011, Virgin Galactic started conducting unpowered glide flights with the SS2, during which the craft is dropped from a launch airplane, and is steered back to earth. 

So there's progress, which is good, since more than 500 wealthy space enthusiasts have already put down a $20,000 refundable deposit on their $200,000 ticket. Among the 500 are Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Ashton Kutcher. 

The company is hoping to begin rocket tests later in 2012, and if those are successful, it has its sights set on 2013, or 2014, to begin commercial operations. 

Running a close second in this suborbital space race is XCOR Aerospace. Like Virgin, XCOR uses a horizontal takeoff and landing flight profile for its spacecraft called the Lynx. But, instead of taking off from the mother ship at 50,000 feet, Lynx takes off from a runway, but it's only large enough for one pilot and one passenger.

XCOR's developing two versions of the Lynx: the Mark I and the Mark II. The first test flight on both is expected to begin later in 2012. Each has four engines that use liquid oxygen and kerosene as their propulsion system. 

The company claims that each spacecraft will be capable of making four suborbital flights...per day.

Though neither have yet to fly, XCOR is already selling tickets for a ride on the Lynx, just $95,000. Beats $150 million. XCOR's also offering the Lynx to other companies who want to start their own space airlines, and pay XCOR to operate it. 

Then there's Armadillo Aerospace, the latest company to get as far as selling tickets that go for $102,000 through Space Adventures.

But, of course, their spacecraft, tentatively called Hyperion, has yet to get off the ground.

Funded by video game developer John Carmack in 2000, Armadillo uses a vertical takeoff and landing flight profile for the Hyperion.

Rockets with a liquid oxygen propulsion system will boost the vehicle into sub-orbit. How exactly the vertical reentry will work remains to be seen, though they appear to be using a system that uses parachute to slow descent, and then retro-rockets for a final touchdown.

Hyperion can also only fit two people, and, as currently imagined, both of them will be passengers. So yeah, the vehicle will be on automatic pilot during the duration of the flight.

Despite already having a waiting list of 200 people, the timetable for Hyperion remains vague. If they're in the air by 2014, we will be surprised. 

Blue Origin, the company started by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is notoriously secretive, so it's hard to know much about their suborbital vehicle called New Shepard.

We know it uses a vertical takeoff and landing model. The capsule separates from the booster before reentry, and is followed by a parachute landing. And, we know that it can carry at least three passengers to altitude above 100 kilometers. And we know that it uses a mixture of high-test peroxide and kerosene for its propulsion system.

In a rare statement by Blue Origin and Bezos, the company acknowledged losing a vehicle called the PM2, which is basically the New Shepard without the crew compartment, during a test flight in 2011.

Blue Origin will reportedly start test flights again later in 2012 on a PM2 version of New Shepard, but we're years away from being able to buy a seat on it. So keep your pants on.

Two other companies worth noting are Masten Space Systems and Up Aerospace. Neither has developed a vehicle capable of carrying humans, but their rocket technology and cargo-carrying capacities are advanced enough that the Federal Aviation Administration considers them both possible future player in the space tourism industry.

Masten's most recent prototype, which will be tested later this year, is called the Xogdor. No I'm not kidding. It's a vertical-launch vehicle guided by navigation and control software, and it has the capacity to lift 100 kilograms of cargo to an altitude of 100 kilometers. No word yet on whether the Xogdor will burninate the countryside.

Up Aerospace's primary vehicle is called SpaceLoft, which is a reusable rocket with a payload capacity of about 36 kilograms. The rocket, which uses ammonium perchlorate solid propellant, is capable of reaching an altitude of 160 kilometers.

So yes, the industry is young. But you know it's a real industry if they have a convention.

In early 2012, space tourism visionaries met in Palo Alto, California for the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. And the consensus, among the 400 executives and scientists, is that things are gonna remain in a holding pattern, if you will, until all of these vehicles and be checked and rechecked and checked again. 

It's a frustrating, but necessary waiting game. ''cause you don't want people: "hey space!" *boom*. 

XCOR president Jeff Greason said at the conference we are going to need thousands of flights to find out whether we have achieved the levels of reliability and reusability that are economically interesting for this industry to become a real transportation sector of the economy.

Meanwhile, the FAA's making plans for commercial suborbital flights becoming a reality in the near future, and they've started on how all of this will all be regulated. Probably the last thing you want is a commercial supersonic spacecraft accidentally crossing paths with a 737.

As for me, I eagerly await the day when I don't need to take out a second mortgage in order to experience four minutes of weightlessness aboard a spacecraft.

Give it 20 years, and I'll be taking the whole family for a reasonable price on a quick voyage to 100 kilometers above the Earth. Can't wait. Wonder what the policy on vomiting is...

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