Tickets for European tourists to outer space 'within five years'

by DAVID DERBYSHIRE

Last updated at 18:25 14 June 2007


At £135,000 for a 90-minute

journey, it will be beyond the

reach of all but the very rich.

But those who can afford a

ticket will enjoy a truly outofthis world experience.

A European consortium

has started selling flights on a

plane it claims will make space

tourism a reality.

The craft is designed to reach an

altitude of 62 miles - the point at

which outer space begins.

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Passengers will experience three

minutes of weightlessness as well

as astonishing views of the Earth.

The £675 million project, led by

space company Astrium, was

unveiled last night to potential

investors in Paris.

The plane is still on the drawing

board but could be ready by 2012.

Astrium is going head to head

with Sir Richard Branson,

whose Virgin Galactic company

is already taking bookings for

space flights.

Since Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering

journey in 1961, only 460 people

have gone higher than 62 miles.

Robert Laine, the chief technical

officer of Astrium, said: "The customers will be wealthy people who

can afford to spend 200,000 euros

for a week’s training in luxury and a

flight in space.

"There may also be people for

whom it is a significant amount of

money but who believe it is worth it."

The space plane, which has yet to

be named, will resemble a small

jetliner and take off from a runway.

Jet engines will lift it to a height

of 7.5 miles before a rocket,

propelled by a mix of liquid oxygen

and methane, kicks in.

The plane should be capable of

3,300mph - seven times the speed

of sound.

When the rocket burns out,

momentum will send the craft to

the 62-mile mark.

The distance - equal to 100km - is

set at approximately the point at

which the atmosphere becomes

too thin for conventional flight.

At this point, the four passengers

and their pilot will be allowed

to unbuckle their seat belts for

three minutes of zero-gravity

weightlessness.

The plane will then glide down to

a height at which its jet engines

can again work properly before 0

Windows in the cabin will allow the

passengers to take in the views

while reclining in bucket-like seats.

Luxury during the short flight will

not be the priority, according to

Mr Laine. "You can have a drink on

the way up and down but drinking

and eating in zero gravity takes a

lot of practice," he added.

"The seat is designed so you don’t

need to wear a seat belt to keep you

in, although belts will be fitted.

When the passengers enter zero

gravity, then they can unclip their

seat belt and float around the cabin."

Astrium believes the risks to

passengers are relatively small and

comparable to the dangers of flying

in an acrobatic plane.

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