Paris: The French daily La Tribune is reporting that executives at EADS Astrium, a fully owned subsidiary of the Franco-German conglomerate EADS, will announce plans next week at the Paris Air Show to offer commercial flights into space. Those willing to pay for the service will get to experience about three to six minutes of weightlessness, and also get a glimpse of the earth's curvature from low-earth orbit.
Astrium has unveiled a full-scale model of the aircraft at a publicity event in Paris on Wednesday. Though the mock-up gives the impression of resembling an ordinary executive aircraft, company engineers claim that the jet is in fact "revolutionary".
The outer-space jet will take passengers 100 kilometers above the Earth, where they will be able to experience zero gravity for a few minutes. The mock-up has a cabin with four seats and numerous windows.
The company says that the outer-space jet would have airplane turbine engines and will take off from an airport like any ordinary aircraft. Rockets would be ignited about 12 kilometers above the Earth, which would take the space jet up to an altitude of 60 kilometers in only 80 seconds, eventually hitting a ceiling of 100 kilometers.
On the return trip, the jet's turbine engines will re-start at an altitude of 12 kilometers, allowing it to land at a normal airport.
"We believe," explained Astrium CEO, François Auque, "that many people would like to visit outer space, and we are able to make this possible. Astrium is by far the largest aerospace firm in Europe, so we really know our way around. We believe that our concept is extremely safe, extremely comfortable, and extremely inexpensive."
According to company officials, development work on the new jet is scheduled to begin in 2008, with the first commercial flight into zero gravity slated for 2012. Passengers may expect to be charged between 150,000 and 200,000 euros for the trip.
Astrium expects to invest around one billion euros in development of the jet.
Astrium is the "sole contractor for Ariane 5 and Europe's most important ISS partner." A number of companies are already getting into the act of space tourism in addition to the Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos, such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Space Adventure, Armadillo Aerospace, Incredible Adventures and SpaceX.