Special for New York Times Infobae.
Ilida Alvarez has dreamed of traveling to space since she was a child. But Alvarez, owner of a legal mediation company, is afraid of stealing and is not a billionaire, two facts that made her certain until a few weeks ago that her fantasy would be as elusive as the stars. But I was very wrong.
Alvarez, 46, and her husband, Rafael Landestoy, recently made reservations for a flight in a 10-person pressurized capsule which – strapped to a massive helium-filled balloon – will float peacefully at 100,000ft as passengers sip champagne and stretch out in ergonomic armchairs. Reservation requires a $500 deposit; the flight itself will cost 50,000 and will last between 6 and 12 hours.
“I feel like it was designed for scary-faced people like me who don’t want to get on a rocket ship,” said Alvarez, whose flight, organized by a company called World View, is due to take off from the Grand Canyon in 2024.
Less than a year after Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson kicked off a commercial space race by launching into the upper atmosphere just weeks apart last summer, the global space tourism market is soaring, with dozens of companies now offering all kinds of activities, from zero-pressure hot-air balloon rides to astronaut training camps and simulated zero-gravity flights.
But don’t put on your astronaut suit yet. Although financial services firm UBS estimates that the space travel market will reach $3 billion by 2030, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has yet to approve most of this world’s space travel and construction of the first space hotel has not yet started. . And while access and choice – not to mention launch pads – are booming, space tourism remains astronomically expensive for most.
First of all, what is meant by space travel?
About 100 kilometers above our heads is the Kármán line, the most accepted aeronautical limit of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is the demarcation used by the International Aeronautical Federation, which certifies and controls the world’s astronautical registers. But many organizations in the United States, such as the FAA and NASA, define anything beyond 80 kilometers as space.
Much of the attention has focused on a trio of rocket companies run by billionaires: Bezos’ Blue Origin, whose passengers include William Shatner, famous for his role in the TV series “Star Trek”; Branson’s Virgin Galactic, whose cheapest suborbital spaceflight tickets cost $450,000; and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which launched an all-civilian passenger spaceflight in September, with no trained astronauts on board. Virgin Galactic’s inaugural flight by Branson in 2021 reached just over 85 kilometers, while Blue Origin flies over 100 kilometers. Both are dwarfed by SpaceX, whose rockets reach much further into the cosmos, reaching more than 120 miles above Earth.
Balloons, like those operated by World View, don’t go that far. But even at their maximum altitude of 18 or 18 miles, operators say they hover high enough to show travelers the curvature of the planet and give them a chance to experience panning, an intense shift in perspective that, according to many astronauts, occurs when viewing Earth. from the top.
Now, how to get there…
Tickets to Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, both FAA-cleared for space travel with commercial passengers, are on sale now (Blue Origin declined to say anything about their prices). Both companies have hundreds or even thousands of Earthlings on their waiting lists to travel to the threshold of space. SpaceX charges tens of millions of dollars for its most remote flights and is building a new facility in Texas that is being evaluated by the FAA.
Craig Curran, owner of Deprez Travel in Rochester, New York, is a huge space enthusiast and has had a reserved seat on a Virgin Galactic flight since 2011. The travel agency has a dedicated space travel arm, Galactic Experiences by Deprez, through which Curran sells everything from rocket launch tickets to astronaut training.
Curran acknowledges that sales in the space tourism industry “are pretty hard to come by” and most come from networks of friends. “You can assume that people who spend $450,000 to go into space are probably moving in circles that aren’t the same as you or me,” he said.
Some of Curran’s most popular offerings are flights where you can feel the same feeling in your stomach that astronauts feel in space when they reach a state of zero gravity. It organizes them for its customers with specialized, chartered Boeing 727 planes that travel in parabolic arcs to mimic the feeling of being in space. Operators like Zero G also offer this service; the cost is around 8200 dollars.
You can almost count on one hand the number of launches that have been carried out with space tourists: Blue Origin has carried out four; SpaceX, two. Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, announced on Thursday that the launch of its commercial passenger service, originally scheduled for late 2022, will be pushed back to early 2023. Many on the waiting list are biding their time before takeoff in enrolling in training courses. . Axiom Space, which has a contract with SpaceX, offers joint training with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Virgin Galactic, which already has a “tailored future astronaut preparation program” at its Spaceport America facility in New Mexico, will also partner with NASA to create a private astronaut training program.
Don’t want to ride a rocket? Hot air balloon rides offer a less dizzying celestial experience.
“We go into space at 20 km/h, which means it’s very smooth and very quiet. It’s not like you’re flying off Earth on a rocket,” said Jane Poynter, co-founder and co-CEO of Space Perspective, which is building its own balloon-shaped sightseeing spaceship, Spaceship Neptune. If all goes according to plan, trips are expected to depart from Florida in 2024, costing $125,000 per person. It’s a fraction of the price of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, but it’s still more than double the average annual salary of an American worker.
Neither Space Perspective nor World View has the necessary FAA approval yet to operate flights.
Whether you’re flying in a capsule or a rocket, travel insurance company battleface launched a space insurance plan for civilians in late 2021, a direct response, CEO Sasha Gainullin said, to the interest and increased infrastructure for space tourism. Benefits include accidental death and permanent disability in space and are valid for spaceflight with operators such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, as well as stratospheric balloon flight. Lots of people have shown interest, Gainullin said, but there have been no sales yet.
“Right now these are wealthy people going into space, so they probably don’t need insurance,” he said. “But for ordinary travelers, I think we’re going to see acquisitions soon.”
Stay a little longer?
In the future, space enthusiasts insist, travelers won’t go into space just to walk around. They will want to stay a while. Orbital Assembly Corp., a manufacturing company with the goal of colonizing space, is building the world’s first space hotels: two ring-shaped properties that will orbit the Earth, called Pioneer Station and Voyager Station. The company, quite optimistic, plans an opening date in 2025 for the Pioneer station, with a capacity of 28 guests. The development of the larger Voyager resort, due to open in 2027, promises villas and suites, as well as a gym, restaurant and bar. Both offer the ultimate luxury: simulated gravity. Axiom Space, a space infrastructure company, is building the world’s first private space station; plans include Philippe Starck-designed accommodations where travelers can spend the night.