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'Cheap' space trips offered for the rest of us

Artist's concept of XCOR's rocket plane
Artist's concept of XCOR's rocket plane  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- An adventure company that books $20 million trips to the international space station and an engineering firm that designs experimental rockets have teamed up to offer $98,000 flights into space.

Space Adventures hopes to sign up a total of 600 customers for sub-orbital flights on a XCOR Aerospace-built rocket plane, which would fly for about one hour and go up 62 miles (100 kilometers).

At the peak of the flight, passengers would experience weightlessness for several minutes and see the Earth from space, according to Space Adventures.

The Arlington, Virginia-based company helped broker the deals that sent the first space tourists Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth on Russian Soyuz rockets to the international space station last year and in April.

XCOR Aerospace said it would need at least three years to produce its proposed rocket-powered craft, provided that it secured enough investment funding. Called Zerus, the rocket plane would carry one passenger and one pilot on each flight.

"By developing rocket engines that have essentially gas-and-go operation, we can operate at a fraction of the cost of competitive vehicles," XCOR CEO Jeff Greason said this week.

The Mojave, California-based firm built a rocket-powered prototype, dubbed EZ-Rocket, which has gone on numerous test flights in recent years.

The modified build-it-yourself hobby plane, outfitted with two 400-pound thrust rocket engines that burn isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen, will make its public flight debut Thursday at the AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

"Our experience building and flying the EZ-Rocket airplane has shown that we can fly rocket-powered vehicles multiple times per day with a small ground crew," Greason said.




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