March 18, 2009

Space Tourism Flights Set For 2012

A Swedish space tourism firm said on Wednesday that short space flights are set to begin launching from northern Sweden in 2012.

"We expect that the first tourist flights leaving from the United States will start around 2011 and that Kiruna (in northern Sweden) will be next about a year later, in 2012," said Spaceport Sweden spokeswoman Johanna Bergstroem-Roos in an interview with AFP.

Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson, will run the flights, which will initially send paying customers 70 miles above the earth from New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Virgin Galactic said it had enlisted five Nordic travel agencies as authorized ticket sellers for both the U.S. and the Swedish launches.  The flights will initially cost $200,000 a piece, a price that will likely decrease over time.

"We hope Kiruna will become Europe's main launch pad for the tourist flights," Bergstroem-Roos said.

The town, roughly 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, has been home to the Esrange Space Center since 1966, she said.  It already draws adventure and wildlife tourists seeking to see phenomena like the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun.  During their visit, tourists can stay at the nearby Ice Hotel and embark on ski, dog sleigh or snow scooter trips.

"We expect that if one person in a family that comes up here wants to fly into space, maybe the other family members will sign up for other experiences," Bergstroem-Roos said.

"The suborbital flights that will be sent up with tourists are the kinds of flights we already run from Kiruna, although we today send crewless flights much higher up, to 800 kilometers," she added.

"We are truly experienced when it comes to space missions."

Some 300 tourist tickets have been sold for the mini-space flights, Bergstroem-Roos said.   Finns, Danes and Swedes were among the purchasers, although most do not wish to wait for the Kiruna launches, choosing instead to fly from the United States.

"Most people want to be first," she added.

Image Courtesy Spaceport Sweden


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