Who Will Become the World’s First Commercial Spaceline?

New Shepard booster executes a controlled vertical landing at 4.2 mph. (Credit: Blue Origin)
New Shepard booster executes a controlled vertical landing at 4.2 mph. (Credit: Blue Origin)

With Blue Origin’s successful re-flight of its reusable New Shepard booster and capsule on Friday, the company jumped ahead in the competition to fly people into space on a commercial basis.

None of New Shepard’s flights has carried a crew. Blue Origin has not announced ticket prices or a schedule for flying people aboard the capsule, which lands under parachute. You can sign up on its website to receive “early access to pricing information and tickets when we open reservations.”

In Mojave, Calif., two rivals are still struggling to their space tourism businesses going. Virgin Galactic, which bills itself as  “the world’s first commercial spaceline,” has yet to fly its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle above 71,000 feet. The company was launched in 2004 with the goal of beginning commercial service in 2007.

Virgin Galactic is set to roll out its second spacecraft on Feb. 19, with flight tests to follow. The first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed during a flight test in October 2014.

In an interview earlier this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson did not give an estimate for when the new spacecraft would begin flying. Tickets aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $250,000.

XCOR is still building its first Lynx vehicle, which it expects to fly later this year in Mojave. The Lynx Mark I will be a high-altitude test vehicle that will not be able to reach the boundary of space at 100 km (62 miles). An upgraded Lynx Mark II will be designed to fly to space.

The company, which is running years behind schedule on its first vehicle, is not providing a schedule for flight tests or commercial service will begin. Tickets cost $150,000.

Space Adventures is the only company to fly tourists to space on a commercial basis. The company has booked seven clients on eight trips to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft since 2001.

However, those flights are limited to when the Russians have spare seats aboard the Soyuz. The last one took place in 2009. British soprano Sarah Brightman pulled out of a flight scheduled for last year. She was replaced by a cosmonaut from Kazakhstan.

Space Adventures does have a plan to fly two tourists around the moon in a modified Soyuz spacecraft. The company said it has signed up two customers willing to pay $150 million apiece for the flight.

Space Adventures had hoped to fly the mission before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire in January 2017.  That goal appears unlikely because the tourist flight would be preceded by a mission around the moon flown by professional cosmonauts to test the upgraded Soyuz. No such mission appears to be on the schedule for the year ahead.