A new start-up calling itself The Golden Spike Company has announced plans to commence commercial space flights to the moon beginning in 2020. But before you reach for your credit card and start booking your first flight, there are a few things you should know. The business is primarily aimed at nations – not private individuals – and it comes with the hefty price tag of $1.5 billion.
Golden Spike says that they have already had a number of inquiries from several interested countries and one wealthy individual. They believe there is a market for the program, even if motivations are more centered on prestige rather than scientific research. The $1.5 billion cost puts it out of the realm of possibility even for many nations, but considering that the price is for a round-trip flight for two, perhaps we’ll see interested parties actually splitting the costs.
Of course, with the current state of commercial space flight efforts, it would be easy to dismiss Golden Spike’s claims of providing commercial travel to the moon in just seven years time. But the company is made up of spaceflight experts and former NASA employees, which does give the effort some level of legitimacy. Still, I wouldn’t hold them too closely to that 2020 date. They have an awful lot of research and development to conduct before they ever get this venture off the ground.
The stakes in the commercial space race just got a little loftier. Today, Virgin Galactic officially announced plans to team up with two U.S companies in pursuit of developing a commercial manned orbital spacecraft.
Backed by fearless entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic has chosen to support Sierra Nevada Space Systems (SNC) and Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDEV2); an initiative designed to stimulate the development of privately-operated space vehicles. This falls in line with the comments Branson made in our exclusive interview at Spaceport America, saying that NASA’s role should transition to apportioning out money to private space companies.
Since it’s conception in 2004, Virgin Galactic has primarily worked alongside Mojave-based company Scaled Composites to develop a reusable sub-orbital craft, dubbed “SpaceShipTwo”. This design will take passengers over 62 miles into space, but lacks the power required to completely escape the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in about 5 minutes of weightlessness. Orbital flights would give passengers a much longer weightless experience and views of the entire surface of the Earth.
SNC and OSC are following Scaled’s lead by researching designs that will utilize lifting-wing bodies and runway landings in an effort to minimize cost and maximize passenger safety.
While the first iteration of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, has yet to make a rocket-powered manned test flight, Branson commented on the importance of looking ahead. “We are now very close to making the dream of sub-orbital space a reality for thousands of people at a cost and level of safety unimaginable even in the recent past…Today’s anouncement is an important step along the way of acheiving our ultimate and long term goal.”
We are indeed living in exciting times for private space exploration. Now go ahead and leave the inevitable “when can I afford it?” remarks in the comments section below!
The future of travel is one step closer to taking off. Last Friday, Spaceport America officially dedicated its recently completed tarmac by welcoming two craft to land in front of a large crowd of Spaceport officials, future astronauts, and press.
Gadling was on-site to witness history as Virgin Galactic’s spaceship VSS Enterprise, carried by mothership White Knight II, made a dramatic flyover and landed on the enormous 200 ft wide by 10,000 foot long runway.
Situated under restricted airspace in the desert of New Mexico, the Spaceport is the first purpose-built commercial facility designed for vertically and horizontally launched spacecraft. The facility will serve as Virgin Galactic’s headquarters for the initial 20 years of operation, but aims to serve as a base for many types of commercial spacecraft as this new industry is formed.
For more information about Virgin Galactic’s approach to commercial spaceflight, head on over to their website. For a look at the event and interviews with Richard Branson, Governor Bill Richardson & a few future astronauts, watch our exclusive video below!