XCOR Seeks Space-Tourism Edge With a Price for Tighter Times

By Demian McLean

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) — A California company today offered cut-rate rocket rides to the edge of space, where passengers are promised weightlessness and a view of the Earth at a price half that of a British rival.

XCOR Aerospace, based in Mojave, said it has already sold about 20 tickets on its two-seater Lynx rocket ship, which has yet to make a test run. The first passenger is scheduled to fly in 2011 at a fare of $95,000.

Thats about half the cost of a trip with Virgin Galactic Ltd., which plans longer, higher flights in 2010 with a roomier ship. The economy-style Lynx will carry just one passenger,strapped in next to a pilot who once flew NASAs space shuttle.

There may be some people who cant persuade a spouse tolet him or her drop $200,000, but will say okay to $100,000, said XCOR spokesman Doug Graham. In tighter times, that may well work to our benefit.

Closely held XCOR said tickets will be offered through a travel agency. Passengers are promised a ride to an altitude of 38 miles (62 kilometers).

Thats short of the internationally accepted boundary of space, which is 62 miles (100 Kilometers). It will be high enough, though, to see the curve of the Earth and the thin purple layer of the planets atmosphere.

Its a front-row seat with a tremendous view, said Graham. Youre not bouncing around with five other passengers,looking through portholes, a reference to Virgin Galactics ship, which is expected to make test flights next year.

Longer Weightlessness

Some adventurers may prefer the offering from Virgin, a unit of Richard Bransons Virgin Group Ltd. Unlike the Lynx,

SpaceShipTwo promises to take customers past the space threshold and let passengers float around the cabin for as long as 6 minutes.

Lynx passengers will be strapped in for the whole ride, with the weightless portion experienced from their seats. That portion of the journey takes up only about 90 seconds of the half-hour

XCOR also has to prove its ship is viable. Rick Searfoss, a former NASA shuttle pilot, has tested only prototypes in Mojave.Virgins craft, on the other hand, is based on SpaceShipOne, the ship that completed the first privately funded human spaceflight four years ago.
SpaceShipOnes creators, Scaled Composites and billionaire Paul Allen, won a $10 million Ansari X Prize with the accomplishment. About 200 people have since made deposits for a seat with Virgin Galactic, the company says.

Per Wimmer, chief executive officer of London-based Wimmer Financial LLP, will ride on the first Lynx commercial flight,which required a $20,000 deposit.

Four years ago, he made a similar down payment for a Virgin Galactic flight. It was scheduled to take off in 2006. He hasnt given up hope.

My goal is to place the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, on the moon one day, he said in a statement. Flying to the edge ofspace aboard the Lynx will take me one step closer.