By Evan Ackerman
The options at the moment for getting into orbit (or even sub-orbit) as a private citizen are somewhat limited. You can spend a week on the ISS (for $25 million), buy a seat on Virgin Galactic (for $200,000 pretty soon), or get there on a technicality in a MiG 31 (for about $27,500). Copenhagen Suborbitals is looking to break into this questionable market with their Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter, which is a single person space capsule that sits on top of a ballistic missile.
This concept is about as awesomely old-school as it gets. Don’t believe me? They did it in Star Trek: First Contact. There’s no room for a seat; the passenger is stuffed into the nose of the missile in a standing position. This is done partly to save space and weight (the diameter of the launch vehicle can be reduced), and partly to mitigate g-forces (they pulled the same trick in the Apollo lunar modules): oriented vertically, the human spine and legs make great shock absorbers. You do get a plexiglass window above you to look out of, and I imagine the takeoff experience would be pretty spectacular. You also get a pressure suit, some modified SCUBA gear to keep you breathing, and an emergency parachute. And vomit bags. The restraint system won’t let you move at all, though, except for maybe slight sideways turns of the head. Obviously, this is not for the claustrophobic.
The booster underneath is going to be a custom made hybrid rocket, firing for 60 seconds with about 3 gravities of thrust, which is significantly less than many roller coasters, albeit for a longer period of time. Most healthy people should be fine, though. The booster has no guidance system at all; it’s got a guide rail on the launch tower and after that, nothing but static fins to keep it on course. After a one minute burn, the booster is jettisoned. The capsule continues upward to over 100 km of altitude, and then descends, using two sets of parachutes to make it safely back to the earth.
The cost for all this is unspecified, since the rocket is still in the development stage. It seems to be moving along nicely, though… After the jump, watch a test video of Copenhagen Suborbitals’ rocket engine.