Will Starchaser Fly Tourists Into Space Before Virgin Galactic?

Starchaser's rocket, which may carry tourists into space.

Look out, Sir Richard Branson! You’ve got competition in your own backyard.

A small group of British rocket scientists hope to beat you into commercial suborbital space tourism service with a small rocket that costs a fraction of what you’re pouring into Virgin Galactic. And they plan to do it from Spaceport America, the $200 million taxpayer funded facility that you convinced New Mexico to build for your SpaceShipTwo flights.

The Daily Mail reports:

A team of British rocketeers plan to open the door to the stars by becoming the first private firm to put tourists in space. Starchaser boss Steve Bennett and astronaut Matt Shrewbridge hope to loft the first paying passengers into the cosmos by 2015.

Next year they plan a manned launch test, firing the already-built 70ft ‘Starchaser 4 off the ground in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire….

Once Starchaser is fully operational passenger-rockets will take off from Spaceport America near the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Starchaser owns 20 acres and buildings at the site, which will eventually become mission control for the amazing operation.

Two unnamed tourists have already paid £250,000 each for the first seats and other places are available at £98,000 (plus taxes).

Starchaser faces some long odds in trying to be first. Both Virgin Galactic and XCOR plan to be in operation long before 2015. However, if Alan Boyle’s “2-year Rule” continues to apply (i.e., commercial suborbital space tourism is perpetually two years in the future), then all bets are off.

Throughout his career, Branson has thrived on being the underdog, whether it was taking on the record industry, British Airways or Coca-Cola. In space tourism, Branson is now the Goliath, with a seemingly impregnable lead in technology, funding and public relations. It will be interesting to see if the Davids like Starchaser can overcome those advantages.

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