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A final call to space travelers

In 2008, the dream will become a reality: tourist flights will cross the limits of the atmosphere and have the experience of levitation and a beautiful view of the earth. The price of the flight ticket in the perfumes: 200-100 thousand dollars

Zohar Blumenkranz, Haaretz, Walla News!

Virgin Group owner Richard Branson. The passengers will undergo a week of training before the flight

The group of tourists tightens their belts. The signal is given and the rocket plane begins to rise slowly above the launch pad. A few minutes later the aircraft crosses the limits of the atmosphere. The space trip began. No, this is not an imaginary script but a new program in a developing field - space tourism.

"From the end of the decade, in 2008, space tourism will begin to materialize. The competition that will develop in this field will most likely reduce the cost of the flight to about 100 thousand dollars", said this week, the director of the Israel Space Agency, in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Zvi Kaplan.

At this point, the Israelis are in for a certain disappointment, since the flights will not leave here so soon. "Israel focuses on the small and smart satellites. Our satellites, relative to their weight, have the best performance, especially in the field of Earth observations. We are not entering the manned field yet," Kaplan said. In the world, on the other hand, space travel is in constant development - and there are already results at hand.

The first space tourists have already realized their dream: the American businessman, Dennis Tito, and the South African millionaire, Mark Shuttleworth - each of whom paid 20 million dollars, for a trip to the International Space Station, in a Russian spacecraft.

"The problem with the continued expansion of the space industry - beyond the elements in which it is already strong, such as communication and navigation - is the price of the launches. At the same time, the interest in space tourism can also create a lever for developing launch technology at a cheaper price. Today, 50 years since the launch of Sputnik, the price has not changed and amounts to 20 thousand dollars per kg, for high orbit. If you want full space tourism, you need to reduce the price to at least 1,000-500 dollars per kg", continued Kaplan - guest of the annual conference of the Israel Management Center (MIL), in the session "Industries of Tomorrow - Macro, Vision and Assessments" , which will be held on September 29, at the Congress Center in Tel Aviv.

100 thousand people are already interested

Many market studies have examined the potential of space tourism in recent years, with the American company Photoron being the one that gave the momentum in the field. The studies examined, mainly through questionnaires, who is even willing to consider flying into space - and who will definitely travel.

The studies show that about 100 people a year will agree to fly into space, for 100 dollars. According to Kaplan, those who want to treat themselves to a trip to space, will not have to be away from work for a long time, since the trip will initially last only a few hours. The first space tourists will be able to experience the experience of levitation and the feeling of weightlessness and make an observation of the Earth. "A trip to Everest costs $70 and space will only cost $100. For the 'modest' difference of $30, the space tourist will be able to boast of an experience that will put him in line with the senior astronauts," Kaplan adds.

Underground tourism

One of the fields that significantly brought the future of space flights closer is the field of suborbital flights. Initial test flights of this type have already been carried out successfully. This is the activity of a rocket, which cannot enter orbit around the earth, but ascends in a parabolic orbit to 100 km above the earth's surface - a height already defined as space.

Air traffic in the civil sphere, for comparison, is carried out at an altitude of 10 km and in military aviation can reach up to 20 km. Tourism of this type will include an ascent to a height where there is almost no atmosphere; movement in conditions of weightlessness; Beautiful view of the earth and landing back.

The project that formed the basis for the development of underground tourism was initiated by Peter Henry Diamandis in '96 and was called X Prize. As part of the project, 10 million dollars in cash were allocated to those who manage to build a spaceship on their own, launch it into space and return home safely. The conditions, in fact, were a little more complex: the spacecraft had to complete two flights within two weeks, in which a pilot and two passengers, or a pilot and a weight corresponding to two additional passengers - would reach an altitude of 100 km - an arbitrary landmark, but accepted as the boundary between the atmosphere of a sphere the earth and outer space. 20 teams from seven countries competed in the project.

The completion of both flights was carried out in October 2004 by the crew of Burt Rutan, owner of Skillet Composites based in Nevada, California. He is the one who won the cash prize from among all 20 contestants. Bartan is a well-known adventurer. Among other things, he was the first to circle the earth without refueling. Behind him are the billionaire Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft and Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin, who founded a company called Virgin Galactic, to promote the idea.

Rotan's idea was to operate a mother plane (dubbed the "White Knight") that would carry the spaceship in its belly. The spaceship was flown by one pilot, named Michael Melville, but there was room for two more passengers.

Kaplan: "In this adventure Rotan had many technological innovations. The plane had to fly at different altitudes; He was much lighter and had adaptive wings. Also, 30 million dollars were invested in it." Following the success came the statement regarding the development of the "White Knight 2" - a plane that will take 2008-8 tourists into space in 7.

More flexible regulation

To promote the idea of ​​"under-track tourism", the entrepreneurs approached the American Congress regarding regulation. "Naturally in the systems we have today, regulation maintains safety. They convinced the legislators that unless there was a 'great compromise', the private sector would not be able to enter the field. The Senate and the House of Representatives openly accepted the principle according to which, as long as you don't endanger the environment but only yourself, these flights will be allowed in the US."

According to Kaplan, "This is the first step towards realizing the idea of ​​space tourism. It is estimated that it will take a long time for tourism to float around the Earth in space. We are talking about the middle of the next decade: 2018-2015. There are more skeptics in the literature."

Kaplan also said that: "The business sector will lead the investment in space tourism, but at a later stage there will be a synthesis between public and private investments. The group of Paul Allen, Brett Rutan and Richard Branson has raised about 100 million dollars in private investment for sub-orbital tourism. I estimate that we are talking about an industry of space tourism, to the extent of 2 billion dollars, in the middle of the next decade".

Indeed, the British billionaire, Richard Branson, announced in September 2004 that the Virgin Group, which he owns, intends to invest up to about 100 million dollars in the project of flights to space. The flights planned by Ranson will last about three hours, during which the passengers - who will pay about $200 per ticket - will have the privilege of experiencing for three minutes, a feeling of weightlessness, when the spaceship will fly at an altitude of more than 100 km above the surface of the earth.

Virgin Galactic will initially offer flights to space only from California, in the USA. In Branson's estimation, in the first five years of the project, about 3,000 people will respond to the offer. They will have to go through a week of preparatory training. Branson signed a technological cooperation agreement with the company "Mohaby - Adventures in Space" which was a partner in the first manned space flight, which was completely financed by commercial sources.

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