Astrium’s Vaporware Space Tourism Jet Goes Poof

Rob Coppinger reports over at his Hyperbola blog that EADS Astrium has shelved its plans for a suborbital space tourism jet – at least for the time being.

The European space company has confirmed the rumour to this blog with the following statement: “The world economic situation has created a difficult near term environment in which to finalise ongoing discussions with investors. Astrium is to temporarily slow down the technical activities focusing on core risk mitigation for the project. The [space jet] team achieved impressive results in the pre-development phase particularly in the field of propulsion technology. Astrium sees suborbital flight as a promising area because of the emerging space tourism market.”

Not much of a surprise, really. The project was announced amid much fanfare about two years ago, but it has slowly sunk from view. The latest estimate I heard about two weeks ago that the project would cost somewhere upwards of $2 billion. Not a cheap investment in this economy.

It is the second suborbital tourism project to go bust this year. Several weeks ago, word came that Myasishchev Design Bureau in Russia was being absorbed into a larger company and that it would stop promoting its 16-passenger vehicle.

So what are the choices for you well-heeled adventure travelers out there? You can pay $200,000 to Virgin Galactic for about 5 minutes of weightless whenever SpaceShpTwo actually flies (latest estimate: 2011). There’s also XCOR’s high altitude near-suboribtal Lynx vehicle, with tickets at $95,000 apiece.

And the rest of the competition? Well, let’s see:

  • Rocketplane: The Oklahoma-based company recent co-sponsored a space fashion show during New York’s Fashion Week. However, it seems to be a bit short of funding for building its business jet style tourism vehicle.
  • Blue Origin: Jeff Bezos’ publicity-shy company is testing out in the Texas desert. Whether it’s close to flying into space is anyone’s guess.
  • Talis Enterprise: The German-Swiss venture has announced plans for suborbital space tourism by 2013. It expects to begin test flights of a prototype for its six-passenger Enterprise vehicle next year.
  • Rocket Racing/Armadillo Aerospace VTOL: With partial funding from the State of New Mexico, this Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicles (RLV) would carry tourists into space from Spaceport America near Las Cruces. A prototype could be ready “as early as 2010” with ticket prices under $100,000.
  • Planetspace. The company will begin testing sub-scale models of its Silver Dart vehicle later this year in Canada.
  • Reaction Engines. The British company’s Skylon space plane is probably 10 years and $10-30 billion away from being a reality.

I think I’ve gotten everything here. Let me know if I left anyone off the list.