Space enthusiasts keen to explore the skies but deterred by the hefty price tag will soon be able to board a rocket for a fraction of the cost.
Passengers in the XCOR Lynx will be able to experience weightlessness and view the earth from over 300,000ft above the Earth – for a ‘bargain’ price of $95,000 (£57,000).
This may sound expensive, but is almost two thirds cheaper than a ride on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
Plus, the Lynx spacecraft seats just two people – compared to Sir Branson’s six-seater – and passengers are encouraged to help pilot the ship.
More than 200 tickets for a trip already been sold for the spacecraft that takes off and lands vertically using its reusable rocket propulsion system.
Jeff Greason, chief executive and co-founder of California-based XCOR Aerospace, is convinced making space travel financially viable is the key to exploring the skies.
He said: ‘We have to go a couple of levels deeper than passion. When you look at the question of why it is so many years after we first went to space yet so little of it is being used, it’s because it just costs too much.
‘We have to do something to fundamentally reduce the cost before space becomes an economic good. We looked at that problem and not having a billionaire writing your cheques, it had to be a money making proposition.’
Passengers will put on white space suits two hours before boarding the spacecraft and embarking on the 30- to 50-minute flight.
Randy Baker, a vice president at XCOR, said things move very quickly: ‘There is just 15 seconds between lighting the engines and take off. Then 50 seconds after lighting the engines you go supersonic and very close to vertical and are pushed back in your seat. Then three minutes after lighting the engines you are at 180,000ft.’
Greason continued: ‘You are going more or less straight up at about Mach 3.
‘Then the engines cut off and you have about a minute and a half of zero gravity as you coast up to our peak altitude of 350,000ft – then another minute and a half of coasting back down until there is enough atmosphere for the vehicle to feel it.’
He said re-entry then takes about a minute and the craft glides to land in approximately 20 minutes.
The spacecraft, which will be able to fly four times a day, seats just the pilot and the passenger will be expected to get involved during the adventure.
They will be asked to perform tasks, such as reading instruments and making sure dials are holding steady.
‘It’s your flight so if there is some particular part of the earth that you want to look at we can steer the ship to look at the Grand Canyon or the area you find of most interest,’ Baker added.
‘Then you have time to look around and soak up being where so few have been before.’
The first model will take travellers 200,000ft above the Earth, but the company hopes the second model will reach 300,000ft and it will not be too long before they are ready to take to the skies and reach maximum altitude of 350,000ft.
‘We expect to be in flight tests by the end of the year, after the first tests we won’t know how long until we are ready to take the first passengers but my guess is six to 18 months.
‘I think we will be flying participants by the end of next year but we don’t like to put a date on things,’ Baker said.
There are also very few physical limitations, so even those in poor health may be able to travel.
‘Some people cannot handle the excitement, some people are claustrophobic, so we take them in a high performance aeroplane to test if they have a psychological problem but in the broad sense, if you can on a rollercoaster, you can do this because the time you are doing it is short.
‘It means people in ill health who want to do this while they still can are able to,’ added Baker.
XCOR Aerospace is housed in a small former Second World War Marine Corps base at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.