Commercial spaceflight is rapidly becoming a reality. No longer is space only available for a handful of people in a generation to experience. Private companies are looking to open tourism to the stars, with big players like Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic all vying for dominance in one of the most competitive and lucrative markets since the advent of the internet.
The Boeing Starliner is just one new spacecraft with the potential to take paying customers up into space, although it is still unclear how commercial spaceflight will work. However, commercial spaceflight will soon be a viable market, with fantastic and futuristic designs capturing the imagination of those who might be among the first to take a trip into space.
Virgin Galactic has also been working towards commercial flights, taking six passengers into sub-orbital flight where they can experience weightlessness. The craft in question would be launched from a traditional jet plane, albeit one that can fly twice as high as normal planes.
Although the project suffered a fatal accident that killed a pilot in 2014, Virgin has continued with tests of Virgin Galactic and are aiming to take passengers into space by the end of the year. Founder Richard Branson has maintained a focus on safety; of paramount concern when planning any trip into space. As more commercial entities are set to begin taking people into space, some experts are predicting reduced safety standards to cut costs in an increasingly competitive market. Diminished passenger safety is just one business practice that cannot be allowed to make the move beyond earth.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is one of the world’s most famous commercial space enterprises, despite suffering numerous costly setbacks. Having been in development for years, SpaceX is one of the biggest names in technology, even used by NASA to send deliveries to the international space station.
SpaceX’s BFR model is its most ambitious yet, although it has since been renamed 'Starship'. The spacecraft consists of two parts: the Super Heavy booster which provides the thrust to escape Earth’s atmosphere, and the Starship element which is the actual piloted craft. At 118 metres tall, the ship is a towering achievement, but SpaceX has even loftier plans beyond space tourism. Elon Musk wants to send an unmanned BFR to Mars to begin his colonisation project as early as 2022.
Blue Origin is another company looking to take people up into space. Founded in 2000 by Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin boasts that its flagship has the largest windows in space for the best viewing of planet Earth. Blue Origin’s spaceship was named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard.
One of the greatest technical achievements of Blue Origin’s New Shepard is being able to reuse its rockets, which will cut costs and make spaceflight more affordable. The spaceship will reach a height of 100km to allow for the sensation of weightlessness, before touching back down. The total journey should only take ten minutes.
The influx of investment from the private sector into space flight and exploration means the average person is closer than ever to going into space.