Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are among the Western heavyweights that dominate the commercial space industry.
But the competition is not deterring players in Asia.
Japan’s PD Aerospace and China’s Kuang-Chi Science are among Asia’s homegrown private firms planning to offer spaceflight services to civilians as corporate spending eclipses government activity throughout the global space sector.
Shuji Ogawa, CEO of PD Aerospace, says that there’s more than enough demand to go around even as he acknowledges that it’s unlikely Asian companies can rival SpaceX, Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin.
“When we have reached their present stage, they will have advanced further,” he said. “Space tourism is a universal dream, not only for Japanese but for all people. It is important for us to view the Earth from space.”
Featuring a propulsion system that alternates between jet and rocket mode, his Nagoya-based company is currently developing a reusable sub-orbital space plane. Over 100 kilometers above the Earth, it is expected to carry eight people — two pilots and six passengers.
The boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is the Kármán line, which lies 100 km above sea level.
With the hope of commencing tourism operations in 2023, PD Aerospace says it intends to conduct its first trial in 2020. Ogawa said that securing testing areas has been a challenge because Japan is small.
Ogawa intends to eventually lower the cost to 398,000 yen ($3,600) even though the initial price tag for a trip is set at 14 million yen ($126,639). “We want to offer space tours to ordinary people.”
According the company’s website, Virgin Galactic charges $250,000 for a voyage designed to exceed 100 km in altitude in comparison. Meanwhile, with SpaceX, $200,000 is the price attached to a trip to Mars — 54.6 million kilometers from Earth. Blue Origin has yet to reveal pricing details.
“There is one very realistic factor that makes Asia the perfect market for space tourism: Asia is a heavily populated continent and in most cities, traffic gridlock is a headache,” Liu Ruopeng, chairman of Kuang-Chi Science, told CNBC.
“There is one very realistic factor that makes Asia the perfect market for space tourism: Asia is a heavily populated continent and in most cities, traffic gridlock is a headache,” says Liu Ruopeng, chairman of Kuang-Chi Science.
Capable of taking six passengers anywhere from 20 to 100 km above Earth — an area known as near space, is a capsule attached to a giant helium balloon that ha sbeen built by the Shenzhen-based firm.
“Near space is a highly undeveloped area and has great potential. Here, passengers don’t need to be trained like astronauts to be physically qualified to travel. Everyone can go,” said 34-year-old Liu.
Liu said the initial cost would be much lower than current prices even though ticket prices have yet to be decided.
In Kuang-Chi Science’s portfolio, space is just one of the many sectors. jetpacks for personal transportation, emergency rescue and military use are also manufactured by the firm aside from the Traveler. with more flexibility than airplanes and a payload of 30 tons, a clean energy powered vehicle designed to transport goods to remote areas is also manufactured by it.
These ambitions have earned Liu the nickname “Elon Musk of China”.
“Musk and I actually focus on different areas, but we are both innovators trying to expand possibilities for humans,” he said.
(Adapted from CNBC)