South African company selling tickets to space

Thirty-year-old Brad Inggs, who owns the Durban-based firm, Orbital Horizon, is targeting prospective African space tourists keen to travel aboard a new suborbital spaceship.

Orbital Horizon, which has signed a deal with US company Xcor Aerospace, is selling tickets for a spot on Xcor’s two-seater Lynx spaceship. This will be far more affordable than going through Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company, which offers tickets for R2-million (US $290 000) each.

The Orbital Horizon ticket holder will have to first fly to the Space Participant Training Centre in Phoenix, US, to undergo tests and training before jetting off.

Inggs said: “It costs less than most luxury cars and could be cheaper than some birthday presents.

“Unlike other space travel, for which the passenger sits in the back and then unbuckles to get to the window to look out, the Lynx passenger sits next to the pilot and has a full view of what’s in front of him.”

The spaceship, which is about the size of a small private aircraft, will enable passengers to view the sights from the front window. The Lynx can apparently make four space trips a day.

The company plans to send their first passenger off in 2012.

Rocket science with a difference

Xcor was founded in 1999 and is run from a hangar in Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California.

The research, development and production of reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), rocket engines and rocket-propulsion systems has seen the company become a leader in the commercial space transportation industry.

RLVs are able to fly to space, orbit the earth and then return home. Unlike once-off rockets that only make a single trip into space, these vehicles can be used over and over again.

The Lynx is Xcor’s first RLV offering for the space travel market. It is able to take off and land like a normal plane and make 30-minute suborbital excursions with a passenger and pilot.

Although outwardly similar to aircraft used on earth, the Lynx is equipped with a rocket-propulsion system instead of a jet or piston engine.

First African in space

In 2002 Mark Shuttleworth became the first South African to travel to space and the second self-funded space tourist in the world – but the trip didn’t come cheap for the tech entrepreneur, who forked out $20-million (R137-million) for the opportunity.

After rigorous training for 10 months at Star City in Russia and undergoing a batch of medical tests, Shuttleworth travelled with the Soyuz crew to the International Space Station for 10 days. His space mission was called The First African in Space Project.

Technically, the South African was the second person from the continent to enter space. The first was astronaut Patrick Baudry, who was born in Cameroon. But because the West African nation was a French colony at the time, Baudry was classed as a French citizen.

During his time at the International Space Station, Shuttleworth participated in scientific research and kept South Africans and the world posted on his progress.

The First African in Space Project was used as an educational outreach programme to promote maths and science in South African schools and what career opportunities they could lead to.

Shuttleworth has a passion for technology and science. He founded internet consulting business Thawte in 1995 while doing his final year studies in finance and information systems at the University of Cape Town.

The company went on to become the first to produce a full-security encrypted e-commerce web server outside the US. After four years Shuttleworth sold Thawte for US$575-million (R4-billion), making him one of South Africa’s wealthiest individuals.