A Formula One tycoon has teamed up with the Dutch airline, KLM, in a project which is set to rival Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Space Expedition Curaçao is selling tickets at $95,000 each. this is half the Virgin Galacitc price and so far 35 people have signed up for missions which would leave from the Caribbean island of Curaçao, subject to regulatory approval.
SXC will lease the Lynx spacecraft, from the California company XCOR Aerospace
A project between KLM and Michiel Mol could bring every city on earth within two hours' travel
IT offers the prospect of Sydney to London becoming a short-haul flight and travellers arriving in Tokyo before the credits for the on-board movie roll.
A Formula One tycoon is linking up with KLM, the Dutch airline, to develop spacecraft that could bring every city on Earth within two hours' travel time.
This week they will reveal the first British passenger to buy a $A97,000 ticket for a ride on an early version of the craft, providing sub-orbital flights for space tourists.
Their ambition, however, is to pioneer commercial space travel with, they hope, the first scheduled flights within 15 to 20 years.
Michiel Mol, 42, a Dutchman who co-owns the Force India F1 team and made his fortune in computer software, said this weekend: "Being able to travel from London to Sydney in an hour and 45 minutes, that is the future. It is also the reason why KLM joined our firm [Space Expedition Curacao] as a partner.
"They themselves started a hundred years ago with sightseeing tours above Amsterdam, and now we have an immense aviation industry."
Peter Hartman, chief executive of the airline, said: "KLM supports this innovative project. The SXC programme's aim is to make space flights - the future of travel - accessible in a responsible and sustainable way by developing and promoting new technologies."
So far seven people have paid for commercial flights into space, paying sums of up to $A32m each to ride on Russian rockets. Sir Richard Branson intends to become the first private space tourism operator, booking seats at $A209,000 each.
Mol intends to follow suit in early 2014 and says he has already sold 35 tickets at pounds $A97,000 for flights from the Caribbean island of Curacao. Regulatory approval is still under negotiation.
His first spaceship, the Lynx, from the Californian firm XCOR Aerospace, will be unveiled next spring and will, he claims, feature breakthrough technology with a reusable engine.
"It's the first time a spaceship will be capable of doing four flights a day and of doing 5,000 flights with one engine," he said.
Passengers, who will be entitled to call themselves astronauts if they reach an altitude of 100 kilometres, will be required to pass physical tests which he says are no more stringent than would be expected of an air steward. The first generation spaceship will travel at 2,200mph, but the second generation will need to reach a velocity of 13,750mph to achieve the desired orbit.
Although Mol concedes this is "a long way off", he adds that once the craft is in space "where you are going doesn't make much difference. You need 10 minutes to get into space and maybe half an hour to decelerate and land again, and the rest of the time you are flying at 12,000-13,750mph".
"Flying from London to Barcelona would still take an hour or so while London to Tokyo would be about 1hr 30min and London to Sydney 1hr 45min. "
The cheapest ticket prices on Concorde were pounds 6,200 before a crash in 2000 led to the suspension of services. Mol says the viability of long-haul space travel will depend on similar price levels.
"When we get to the point that travelling through space is two or three times [the cost of] a business-class long-distance flight then I think there will be millions of people who would prefer to be in Sydney in a little more than 1 and a half hours instead of 24 hours."
Mol has committed less than $A161m for the space tourism venture and concedes he will need massive outside investment to make space travel a reality.
His father, Jan Mol, who is worth $A653m according to The Sunday Times Rich List, will co-host the British launch of the venture with Marie Claire von Alvensleben in London this week. Anton Kreil, the first Briton to pay Mol for a sub-orbital flight, admitted he was partly motivated by ego. "I will be an astronaut. I will no longer have to listen to people who brag about their new Aston Martin."
Kreil, 32, who starred in the BBC TV programme, Million Dollar Traders, said he believed commercial space travel was close to becoming a reality.
"I was brought up in a four-bedroom terrace house in Liverpool, and there are going to be a lot of normal people going," he said. "I believe we are only 20 years away from this becoming a viable and affordable means of transportation."
XCOR Aerospace is teaming up with the southern Caribbean island of Curacao to develop a space port for future suborbital tourist and scientific flights. The agreement is with the territorial government of Curacao and a group of Dutch investors with the hopes of offering flights in 2014.
The joint venture is known as Space Experience Curacao, or SXC. The group will lease one of XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft. The Lynx is a small two-seat spacecraft (pictured above) designed to launch to more than 100 kilometers (about 328,000 feet).
The pilot and passenger would experience weightlessness at the apex of the flight. And from that altitude they will be surrounded by the darkness of space and see the curvature of the earth with the sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Curacao 62 miles below.
The cost of a single ride is expected to be $98,000.
Based in Mojave, California, XCOR is developing the Lynx and plans to begin test flights in 2011. Initial space flights will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port before offering rides from other locations. The company also has an agreement to offer rides in South Korea beginning in 2013.
Mojave continues to be a hotbed of space-tourism development. The team down the flight line at Scaled Composites is busy with flight tests leading up to the first glide flight of SpaceShipTwo.
After a small landing-gear incident with the mother ship Eve back in August, the team is moving forward with flight testing. According to the company website, the latest flight of Eve yesterday included a dry run of the SpaceShipTwo release and several simulated SS2 approaches to the runway.
Virgin Galactic’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, recently announced he expects the first tourist flights on SpaceShipTwo to take place within 18 months.