February 17, 2006
New Joint Venture Joins Space Tourism Race
LOS ANGELES -- A company that has sent three space tourists into orbit has partnered with an investment firm founded by major sponsors of the Ansari X Prize to develop rocket ships for suborbital flights.
The agreement announced Thursday between Space Adventures and the venture capital firm Prodea would help finance suborbital vehicles being designed and built by the Russian aerospace firm Myasishchev Design Bureau.
"We want to provide the opportunity for people to experience space in as many ways as possible," Space Adventures chief executive Eric Anderson said in a telephone interview.
Both sides declined to disclose the amount of investment, but Prodea co-founder Hamid Ansari said the firm was fully committed to funding the project.
Arlington, Va.-based Space Adventures is best known for sending three tourists to the orbiting international space station for a reported $20 million a person.
Space Adventures currently has about $3 million in escrow from nearly 200 potential passengers who have paid deposits to fly aboard a yet-to-be-built suborbital vehicle.
Space Adventures' partnership with Texas-based Prodea marks the first time the space tour operator has played a direct role in the development of suborbital spaceships, Anderson said. Suborbital ships go up and come immediately back down.
The vehicle being built by Myasishchev can hold up to five people. The design of the vehicle known as Explorer is set and construction will begin soon. Once the vehicles are built, Space Adventures and Prodea plan to sell the vehicles to spaceports around the world, Anderson said.
Prodea is founded by the Ansari family, which provided the major funding for the 2004 Ansari X Prize.
The X Prize, intended to spur the space tourism industry, was won by the Burt Rutan-designed SpaceShipOne, which became the first privately financed manned rocket to fly to space. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen invested more than $20 million in the SpaceShipOne project.
Since then, Rutan's Mojave-based Scaled Composites has contracted with the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, founded by British mogul Richard Branson, to build a fleet of suborbital vehicles based on SpaceShipOne's technology. Virgin Galactic expects to take the first paying passengers into space by 2008.
On the Net:
Space Adventures: http://www.spaceadventures.com