Canadian-U.S. Partnership Plans Public Space Tourism Flight

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WASHINGTON — A Canadian space tourism firm has teamed up with a U.S. businessman to form a new company that aims to launch its first public spaceflight by 2007.

The London, Ontario-based Canadian Arrow effort announced plans to work with Internet and telecommunications entrepreneur Chirinjeev Kathuria to form Planetspace, a new firm that will not only complete and launch a passenger-carrying suborbital spacecraft, but branch into other mediums as well.

“It brings the resources to Canadian Arrow to allow us to complete our vehicle,” said Canadian Arrow leader Geoff Sheerin, also serving as Planetspace president and chief executive officer, of the partnership during a telephone interview. “So it’s pretty significant from that standpoint.”

The Canadian Arrow team conducted a successful May 12 engine test that demonstrated some 50,000 pounds of thrust. The firm’s launch vehicle is designed to fly on between 52,000 and 57,000 pounds of thrust, Sheerin said.

Kathuria, a major investor in the MirCorp effort that helped Dennis Tito become the first space tourist, said the new partnership will be a step forward for private space tourism. Initially slated to visit the Russian space station Mir with the help of MirCorp, Tito flew to the International Space Station under an agreement brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures.

“My idea was to create a company that would pick up where MirCorp left off,” said Kathuria, who serves as chairman of Planetspace. “I think it’s really the last untapped frontier.”

Under Planetspace, Sheerin and Kathuria hope to complete the first Canadian Arrow rocket and related tests in time for public suborbital spaceflights in the next two years. Tickets for initial flights are set at about $250,000 a seat and will include 14 days of training before launch day.

The new partnership also includes plans for a reality television show, as well as discussions with a company to hold an international lottery with spaceflight prizes.

Launching Canadian Arrow

The Canadian Arrow effort began during the Ansari X Prize competition, an international contest to develop and launch a reusable, three-person spacecraft up to suborbital space twice in two weeks. The $10 million prize was won in October 2004 when the privately built spacecraft SpaceShipOne made its third successful suborbital launch.

Earlier, in August 2004, Sheerin told SPACE.com that Canadian Arrow was just $2 million away from making its first launch. “But that was to complete the vehicle and go after the X Prize,” Sheerin said in the latest interview. “The quantities have gone up since then because now we’re building an industry … it’s in the millions of dollars.”

Kathuria said he is putting up some funds for Canadian Arrow’s development and is working with possible investors.

The Canadian Arrow vehicle’s design is based on the German V-2 rocket. It may launch from either a Great Lake-based barge or a shoreline launch site. Those discussions are still under way, Sheerin said, adding that four potential launch sites — two onshore and two offshore — are under review.

“Basically, they are using proven technology,” Kathuria said, adding that the design is what spurred his interest in Canadian Arrow. “It’s the best, and possibly most cost-effective, vehicle.”

Sheerin has recruited a team of test astronauts that has been training for the first piloted Canadian Arrow test flights.

“You’ll see a mission patch for each mission,” Sheerin said, adding that Canadian Arrow passengers will be part of their flight’s crew. “You may find that every flight has some experiment for schools on board.”

A New Space Business

The Planetspace announcement is the latest in a flurry of activity by private firms committed to developing a private human spaceflight industry.

Last week, former X Prize competitor Bill Sprague and his firm, Aera Corp., announced plans to launch their first manned suborbital spaceflight by December 2006, with ticket prices also set at $250,000 a seat. The firm is currently developing Altairis, a six-person rocket, which is expected to be the first of a planned fleet of rocket ships to launch paying passengers into suborbital space.

The Poway, Calif.-based SpaceDev, led by Chief Executive Officer Jim Benson, also announced that it has nearly completed a NASA-funded study into potential designs for suborbital and orbital spacecraft. In September 2004, SpaceDev unveiled plans to build Dream Chaser, a hybrid-engine propelled spacecraft planned to loft six people on suborbital flights initially, with an ultimate goal of reaching toward orbital space. Initial manned suborbital test flights are slated for 2008, with piloted orbital launch tests planned for 2010, SpaceDev officials said.

Those efforts and others, including the Canadian Arrow team, the Toronto-based da Vinci Project and Rocketplane Ltd. of Oklahoma, are working hard as the anniversary nears of the successful first suborbital human flight of the privately built SpaceShipOne. That airplane-launched spacecraft, built by aviation veteran Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites firm and financed by billionaire Paul G. Allen, made its first piloted suborbital space shot on June 21, 2004. SpaceShipOne won by flying twice in two weeks between September and October of 2004.

Rutan is also developing a passenger version of his successful spacecraft for the Virgin Galactic venture established by British billionaire Richard Branson. Tickets for those spaceflights are set at about $208,000 per ride, and the first passenger has already been chosen — a contest winner named Doug Ramsburg.

“We definitely want to be the first to offer suborbital flights … [but] I think there is room out there for more than one company,” Kathuria said of private space tourism. “No one company is going to be able to fulfill the demand.”