Space tourism set to take off?

Space tourism set to take off?
A man takes a picture of the spacecraft of Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) displayed in Hong Kong on July 8, 2013.

With the emergence of the XCOR Lynx Mark II space shuttle, the notion of commercial space travel may not seem so far-fetched.

This shuttle has the ability to take two people - a pilot and a passenger - on an hour-long sub-orbital flight to as high as 103km above sea level before safely gliding back down and landing.

The shuttle was developed by XCOR Space Expeditions, a rocket engine and space-flight development company based in the US. The first space flights are set to be launched by the end of next year.

The flight will undergo three main stages from take-off to touch-down, with the stages featuring different experiences of space travel.

Flight launches will be from the XCOR Space Expeditions' spaceport in Curacao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea.

The first stage involves the shuttle quickly rising from sea level to the maximum height of 103km at the speed of sound, in a little over three minutes. As soon as the shuttle breaches the 100km space boundary height, the second stage commences.

During this time, the passenger will be able to experience weightlessness from the absence of gravity.

COAST THROUGH SPACE

The second stage of the flight lasts about five to six minutes as the shuttle coasts through space.

Then the flight begins a slow descent back to Earth, marking the start of the third and final stage.

This stage lasts about 40 minutes, during which the shuttle will glide back to Earth.

To reduce falling speed, the pilot will also perform a pullout manoeuvre, allowing the passenger to feel the pull of 4G G-Forces for a brief 10 to 20 seconds. Throughout the flight, the passenger will be assisting the pilot in performing navigational tasks and reading dials, allowing him or her to experience the full action of piloting a space shuttle.

Efforts have also been made to ensure that the XCOR Lynx Mark II is environmentally friendly and does not waste resources.

Unlike other space shuttles, it is constructed with lightweight materials and uses common bio-fuels.

Additionally, it features reusable rocket propulsion, which allows it to enter space 5,000 times.

All prospective passengers will have to go through four specialised training courses to prepare them for the journey.

Interested in a space ride? A ticket will cost you around US$100,000 (S$125,000). Better start saving up.


This article was first published on August 30, 2014.
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