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Tue, Jul 14, 2009

Hawaii Eyes Space Tourism Business

But State Funding Troubles May Delay Licensing

People think of Hawaii as an exotic destination, to be sure, but some in the state what that to just be the beginning of some high-end tourists' Island experience.  And more than just sightseeing trips to the fringe of space, some are envisioning the use of the commercial suborbital spacecraft as a way to shuttle travelers from Hawaii to Japan in just 45 minutes.

The Associated Press is reporting that several space tourism companies are looking at Hawaii for operations. The companies all propose spacecraft that take off and land like a conventional airplane as part of their business model. About the size of a standard business jet, they would climb to about 40,000 feet under conventional power before firing the rockets that would take them to an altitude of about 62 miles. The price tag of about $200,000 would include a week's training camp and a few parabolic flights to give customers a taste of microgravity before the actual flight.

But Hawaii, like so many other states, is experiencing financial difficulty, and may be forced into layoffs from state government, so Governor Linda Lingle may be reluctant to spend the half million dollars the state authorized for the licensing procedure. The bill authorizing the expenditure can become law without her signature, but she would still have the authority to not spend it.

Hawaii could become the 8th state to be licensed for a commercial spaceport, according to AP. The process takes about 3 years, and includes extensive environmental study. Promoters of the idea say because the spacecraft burn mostly liquid oxygen and synthetic jet fuel, there would be very little environmental impact. Existing runways would be used for space tourism. A company called Rocketplane is reportedly in the process of designing the horizontal-takeoff-and-landing spacecraft, and expects to begin building the first prototype at its facility in Burns Flat, OK in 2011.

Rocketplane Mockup File Photo

And the cost of the trip? Some Hawaiian officials think some who already spend big bucks to come to the islands won't have any qualms about ponying up an additional couple of hundred thousand for what some might call the ultimate "E-Ticket" ride. Jim Crisafulli, the state's director of aerospace development, said simply "They wouldn't bat an eye at spending that amount of money to fly to space."

FMI: www.aerospacehawaii.info, www.rocketplane.com

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