It’s almost like a flashback to the 1990s. Space Access LLC, a company that dates back to the mid-1990s, formally announced its plans Thursday to provide suborbital space tourism flights starting in 2011. Back in the 1990s Space Access was proposing a spaceplane that could launch satellites or carry cargo to the ISS. The company is still pushing a spaceplane, now with a current focus on suborbital commercial human spaceflight, although the company does plan to provide orbital flights starting in 2014.
One thing that sets Space Access apart from other companies in the business is its technology: it eschews rocket engines for something called an ejector ramjet that uses liquid hydrogen fuel but oxygen from the atmosphere. The company claims that the ejector ramjet is seven times more efficient than a rocket engine because the vehicle doesn’t have to carry its own oxidizer. The company also claims that this approach is more “environmentally conscious” since liquid hydrogen doesn’t create carbon emissions and can be generated from renewable energy sources (it does admit that hydrogen today primarily comes from petroleum refinement). The “Skyhopper” vehicle will also be fast: flying up to Mach 7, compared to the Mach 3-4 peak speed announced by other suborbital spaceflight ventures.
Another unique aspect of Space Access is that it is inviting prospective customers to South Florida for a series of seminars starting in January where they’ll “participate in the development of a revolutionary vehicle” by attending seminars about the vehicle development. All this will be at an “exclusive private resort” on Key Largo, south of Miami, near where Space Access has offices (although the company’s mailing address is Huntertown, Indiana, a suburb of Fort Wayne.) The cost? $7,200 per person [adjusted on Friday to "only" $3,600] for the three-day event (based on double occupancy).
The company’s FAQ features some more details about Space Access and its plans. The company proposes to build up to eight of the Skyhopper suborbital vehicles and performing 15 flights a day. Flights will take place from facilities the company calls “SpaceGateWays”, with the first to be built south of Corpus Christi, Texas (as reported last week). It’s an interesting new venture, but it’s entering a crowded market with a new set of technologies: a difficult challenge for any company in any field.