Zero-G Boeing 727
Zero Gravity Corporation's expansion plans will require the company to acquire at least one more Boeing 727 aircraft for reduced gravity flights. Credit: Zero-G Corp.

WASHINGTON — Space hospitality company Orbite has unveiled a training program for potential space tourists, given them a taste of the spaceflight experience.

Orbite announced May 12 its “Astronaut Orientation” program designed to introduce prospective space tourists to spaceflight. The three-day, four-night program will mix classroom training with flights on high-performance and microgravity aircraft. It will also include a “space food lab tasting” with chef Alain Ducasse.

“It’s really, as we say, training people mentally, physically and spiritually for what is truly a bucket list experience,” Jason Andrews, co-founder of Orbite, said in an interview. Andrews, who previously established space companies such as BlackSky and Spaceflight, created Orbite in 2019 with French entrepreneur Nicholas Gaume.

That training is vital, he said, to ensure that people who pay several hundred thousand dollars for a suborbital flight or tens of millions of dollars for an orbital mission have a good experience.

“The last thing you want to spend half a million dollars or more to go into space for 5 or 10 minutes and you’re so terrified that you just don’t remember it or you come back saying that was a bad idea,” he said. “The goal here is come and experience high-g and zero-g, and also we will give you mental and physical techniques to overcome those, so that it is positive, and that you can focus on maximizing the benefit of the experience.”

Orbite doesn’t have any formal relationships with companies planning suborbital or orbital tourism, which for now plan to do their own preflight training. However, Andrews said he sees the experience as one of the first steps in the sales process for those companies.

“We see ourselves as the top of the funnel,” he said. “People who are interested in space come to us and we educate them. We really serve almost as a guide in some cases: if this is what you like, maybe you should think about this type of experience. Then we would hand them off to Blue or Virgin or SpaceX.”

Orbite plans to offer the Astronaut Orientation program this August at a resort in France co-owned by Gaume, and again three times in November and December in Orlando, Florida. Prices begin at $29,500 per person.

Andrews said the program may attract people who are curious about space tourism, but may not have the means to buy a ticket just yet. “We believe while we’re there to train these future generations of astronauts, we’re also there to provide for those who may not be able to afford to go to space today,” he said. “This is as close as they may get.”

The Astronaut Orientation program is the first step toward the company’s long-term plans to establish a training complex for commercial spaceflight participants. Andrews said Orbite plans to announce more details about that complex, including where it will be built, later this year. He said the complex would open in phases in 2023 and 2024.

Andrews compared the long-simmering interest in private human spaceflight to the smallsat industry, which took off in the last decade after years of effort. “I think the same thing is happening in commercial human spaceflight,” he said. “I think the decade of the 2020s is the decade of the commercial human spaceflight revolution.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...