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Is there any evidence to support the likelihood of widespread consumer space travel in, say, the next 20 years? I attempted to do some research on commercial space travel, and came across Virgin Galactic's website, where you can book a flight to space for a cool quarter million USD. However the website seemed to be missing two vital pieces of information: when flights would actually commence, and where said flight takes you. What are we talking about here, a trip up to the space station? To the moon and back? Just a bit further than the current airplane flights that take you just outside the atmosphere?

A bit more googling found an article which claims Virgin Galactic will commence flights this December. But I wasn't able to unearth any information about exactly where the flights will take passengers, and honestly—there isn't a huge subset of people who can afford $250,000 tickets. So, my questions:

  1. Is Virgin Galactic the only company reportedly working on consumer space travel, or are there others?
  2. Is there any information on where exactly these flights will take you? If the current vehicles are only capable of near-Earth travel, is there any information about plans/research to achieve craft that can fly further (ex. to the moon)?
  3. I assume the $250 grand price tag is in part to make up for the costs of creating the craft, and in part due to cost of fuel. Are there plans in progress anywhere for consumer spacecraft that are cheaper to build/fuel so that the price could drop down to something more budget-friendly for the average person?

Essentially I'm just looking for any hard facts and information that can be provided about current and near-future plans for consumer space craft in the areas of launch timeline, route/distance from earth, and pricing. It would be nice to know if I'm likely to get the opportunity to go to space in my lifetime :)

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    $\begingroup$ I see very little difference between space tourism and space exploration. When I travel to Bhutan as a tourist, I am exploring -- if only on a personal level. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jul 28 '13 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ Also, Virgin Galactic's offering is a suborbital flight. So technically, there is no destination -- it is a round trip. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jul 28 '13 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ To OP, @Erik and others, I've posted a new Space Exploration Meta discussion / question: Are consumer space travel / space tourism questions on-topic? I suggest we all share our opinion on the matter there. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Jul 28 '13 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @TildalWave Thanks! I've made a comment over there. Don't worry, I didn't find your comment argumentative at all; defining what is and isn't on topic is important in beta, and you've every right to your opinion :) $\endgroup$ – WendiKidd Jul 28 '13 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ +1 & vote to keep open, while I am solidly in the camp of space tourism questions belong at travel.stackexchange.com this question in the current time is appropriate here, I see no compelling reasons for it to be closed. $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Jul 28 '13 at 11:02
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The Virgin Galactic website has several areas that clearly indicate a flight on SpaceShipTwo is a sub-orbital space tourism flight. Specifically, passengers are taken above the Von Karman line (roughly 100 km altitude), which is considered the edge of space, and high enough for any passengers to qualify as astronauts.

Regarding the specific questions:

  1. Passengers would experience several minutes of weightlessness above the atmosphere before re-entering and gliding back to the launch site.

  2. I haven't read anything about expansion plans for tourism beyond sub-orbital flight, although VG is working on a launch vehicle for orbital payloads. Elon Musk of SpaceX has publicly discussed plans to send humans to Mars.

  3. I would assume, as with any business, that price is set by the company's perception of supply and demand. So obviously that would be informed by costs (development, operational, etc.) as well as market demand. Generally prices are high in new markets and come down over time. Air transportation is probably a good analogy: expensive at first, but gradually falling in price over the last several decades. Without having any data, I would guess the cost of fuel is a negligible fraction of the operations cost. Rubber and LOX are cheap.

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From what I can tell, the company is offering a suborbital flight. Everything on their experience page, such as that it seems the flight takes only one day, suggests this.

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