[FPSPACE] Big dreams, few results in prviate space exploration

pjp pjp961 at svol.net
Sun Sep 30 09:11:57 EDT 2007

>From Agency France Presse.




Big dreams, few results in private space exploration


A dusty launchpad in a remote region of New Mexico could become one of the
first gateways to the heavens for private individuals clamoring to be the
pioneer generation of space tourists.

If British billionaire Richard Branson's vision is realised, by 2010,
tourists could be paying around 200,000 dollars to board "SpaceShipTwo" and
be rocketed into space to experience weightlessness before returning to

Branson's Virgin Galactic has already begun taking reservations for seats
aboard "SpaceShipTwo", a six-seater reusable spacecraft developed by
American engineer Burt Rutan.

"I think they will get two or three missions a day, five days a week, around
700, 800 flights a year," Ben Woods, a member of the New Mexico Spaceport
Authority told AFP. 

Woods said New Mexico authorities hope to regenerate the region through
commercial space travel, denying it will merely become a folly of the

"If you look at this strictly as saying 'Well we're going to have some rich
people come up to take a joyride' you can misinterpret what we are actually
doing, what the real endgame is here," Woods said.

"The intention from the very beginning was to undertake this as part of an
economic development impact for the entire community in New Mexico," he

Rutan, who earned 10 million dollars in 2004 after winning a competition to
design a manned spacecraft that could be launched into space twice within 15
days, believes the launch of the first commercial spaceflights will lead to
the mushrooming of other private operators.

"If we go through a time period where the focus is on flying the consumer...
there will be a breakthrough to enormous volume," Rutan said at a recent
conference in Pasadena to mark 50 years of space exploration.

Lowering the costs of sending people and objects into space represents the
biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs. William Ballhaus, the chief
executive of Aerospace Corporation, estimates it costs around 20,000 dollars
to fire a kilogram of matter into space.

South African entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose private company SpaceX has a
contract with the US government to send satellites into orbit, believes
"private space travel should model itself on other high-tech sectors" such
as data processing to bring costs down.

Private space exploration has not been without its setbacks however. In
July, three of Rutan's employees were killed during ground tests of rocket
engines for "SpaceShipTwo". Last year, a SpaceX rocket carrying a US
military satellite exploded shortly after its launch in the Pacific Marshall

While Virgin and SpaceX concentrate their resources on building space
tourism and providing an alternative means of commercial satellite launches,
other companies are attempting to build business in less obvious means.

Space Services Inc (SSI) offers to shoot the ashes of loved ones into space,
making worldwide headlines earlier this year when a capsule carrying a
portion of Star Trek actor James Doohan was launched to an altitude of 100
kilometers before returning to Earth.

SSI's services start at 495 dollars for a basic flight into space, while at
the pricier end of the scale, private individuals can pay around 12,500
dollars to have the ashes of loved ones shot onto the Moon or into orbit.

Meanwhile, Internet search giant Google is hoping to spark a private space
race by offering 20 million dollars for anyone who manages to land a robot
on the moon capable of roaming around the lunar landscape, sending back
high-resolution snaps and data.


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