New Scientist October 24, 2005
Chinese tourist pays $100,000 for space trip
By Kelly Young
A Chinese businessman has paid $100,000 to become the country's first space tourist in 2007. But the spacecraft meant to fly him to the brink of space do not actually exist yet.
Space Adventures, a space tourism company based in Arlington, Virginia, US, announced on Friday that it had arranged the flight for Jiang Fang. Jiang is president of the company's partner firm, Hong Kong Space Travel.
Jiang would fly to an altitude of 100 kilometres, experiencing weightlessness in a suborbital flight that would last a total of 90 minutes, according to the China Daily website. But a Space Adventures employee told New Scientist that the vehicle required to take him there "doesn't actually exist yet".
The company's suborbital flight programme is based on two separate spacecraft, but neither is ready to fly space tourists. One is a rocket plane called Xerus and the other is an air-launched spaceship called Cosmopolis 21.
Xerus, designed by XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, California, US, is an airplane powered by four rocket engines that would carry one passenger and a pilot. Its engines are currently in development, says the Space Adventures source.
Cosmopolis 21 (or C-21), designed by the Russian company Myasishchev Design Bureau, is a rocket module that could carry two passengers and a pilot. The C-21 would launch from a height of 20 kilometres after being carried atop an aircraft called the M-55X. After its burn, the rocket engine would separate from the crew compartment, which would eventually glide towards the ground and land with parachutes.
It is based on the former Soviet Union's Buran space shuttle, which flew only one unmanned orbital mission in 1988 before the project's funding was cancelled. Its reincarnation, the C-21, has yet to be developed, although the M-55X carrier plane is already flying, according to the Space Adventures source.
The company has already organised orbital flights on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station for three space tourists, who each paid about $20 million for their journeys. The company also announced in August that it would offer flights around the Moon for $100 million per ticket, while seats on suborbital jaunts are going for $100,000 each.
"Spaceflight is still nowhere near being available to the average citizen of the world," comments Charles Vick, senior fellow for space and defence policy at Globalsecurity.org, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, US. "It is more a rich man's game."
© Copyright 2005, New Scientist