The commercial space race heats up

Remember Virgin Galactic? It’s Richard Branson’s pet project to create the first ever commercial service to fly passengers into a lower orbit, tool around in zero gravity for a little while and float back to the surface. They teamed up with Scaled Composites, the group who built the spacecraft that won the Ansari X prize, to create SpaceShipTwo, which by 2009 should soon be able to carry six passengers and two pilots out into space. One ticket to 68 miles above sea level? $200,000.

It looks like they’ve also got some competition. Xcor, a California based aerospace company, revealed plans for a new sub-orbital aircraft earlier today dubbed the Lynx. It’s significantly smaller than SpaceShipTwo and only able to accommodate one passenger plus one pilot, but it’s a form factor that Xcor thinks will be better suitable to the market. Perhaps the fact that it takes off solo from an airstrip (opposed to the dual aircraft design of SpaceShipTwo) and only goes about half the altitude of its competitor will make it a less expensive flight.

It should be two years before the Lynx is off the ground, and Xcor has still to find a commercial partner to market and operate the flights. But with a little bit of extra competition in the market, maybe the galactic experience will soon be affordable to your average millionaire instead of your average billionaire.