Experimental research company SpaceX Express announced at a press conference on Thursday that their 'Spacebus' project has cleared all testing phases and is almost ready to start taking people into orbit.Of the ten or so companies trying to be the first into orbit, Spacex Express would have to be considered the darkest of dark horses. Yet surprisingly the company fully expects to be ferrying people into orbit by January 2012. Less than a year from now.
The vehicle used for launch and re-entry resembles a regular rocket and seats twelve people plus the pilot. The ship is so small that everyone sits single file in a line starting from the captain, who must board first and then the rest of the passengers one by one. It is basically a tube with thirteen seats in a line. Because of the ships small size the tallest a person can be to take the ride into space is 6'4 inches tall. Once the ship reaches low earth orbit it starts it's journey back with the use of two thrusters. When it is at the right altitude two large parachutes open up simultaneously. One at the nose of the ship and the other at the tail so that the ship floats to earth horizontally.
"We kept the design simple", says Dennis Love, the CEO of SpaceX Express. "The safest approach is to minimize your design as much as possible. The best platform for reaching space isn't the one that's the most complicated. When your design is simple it is easier to build redundancy into the system for maximum safety",he said.
For the last five years SpaceX Express has been operating out of a former bus factory in a Philadelphia industrial park. They plan to move their operation to New Mexico sometime later this year to start getting ready for actual launches. When asked how much a ticket to ride is going to be Mr. Love replied: " The price of a seat on Spacebus Alpha will vary but I can tell you that it won't be millions of dollars. It won't even be hundreds of thousands of dollars. We even plan to accept Air Miles. This is going to be the People's rocket."
When asked how the company could expect to make a profit with such low prices the CEO responded: " We didn't go all out so to speak on expensive items for Spacebus Alpha. We shopped around, got the best deal on parts and reused stuff around the shop as much as possible. We're serious about going after the one million dollar X prize. If we can be the first private company to put people into space we'll win the million dollars and with that money we will be able to build five more spacebuses."
The location of the spaceport that will host the launch of the Spacebus has not been disclosed. Reporters were only told that an announcement on the location would be forthcoming. There has been quiet rumors that suggest no launch company is actually taking SpaceX Expresses plan seriously. One launch facility manager we spoke told us on the condition of anonymity, that SpaceX had approached them about booking launch time and were denied. When asked why the company was denied launch privileges the manager said " We never turn down any serious inquiries into a possible business relationship, however, Spacex made demands that this facility could never provide. Nor could any other."
One of the demands was that the launch facility build, supply, staff and maintain a "space bar" at the launch facility. Another condition was that the launch facility be liable for anything that went wrong with the launch once the rocket was on the pad.