Fly me to the moon (really)

The era in which the wealthy and intrepid can choose travel to space is fast approaching. Forward thinker Richard Branson has helped commercialise the idea with his Virgin Galactic. But as the idea of leisure space travel catches on, a rival to Branson has emerged.

Meet Michiel Mol, the Dutch business-man and co-owner of the Force India Formula One team. His space company SXC (Space Expedition Curacao) is due to launch in the next two years, and has already started selling tickets this summer for its first flight in January 2014. Recently, SXC jointly announced with rocket-makers XCOR Aerospace the completion of a multi-million dollar transaction that secures the “wet lease” of production a Lynx aircraft (tail number two), for operation on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, pending export licensing action.

The company has teamed with Royal Dutch Air Carriers KLM, and has long-term plans to transform space travel in to a fully functioning resource similar to commercial flights today.

Mol has big ambitions for the company. “I really see it as a growing market. I think in the next 100 years we’ll see space travel adopted for commercial flights.”

Mol has a string of successful ventures behind him, not least Lost Boys international, one of Europe’s largest digital agencies; Guerrilla Games, a concept so directional in gaming Mol sold it to Sony for exclusive rights, along with Force India. Space travel, he says, is the next step and a long-term childhood dream.

“I grew up watching space expeditions on television. I always told my friends and parents that one day I would go. Now it’s within reach. Space XC will offer people a truly life changing experience. Nothing will compare to seeing earth from space,” says Mol.

Mol says his proposition is very different to Branson’s. SXC’s USP is that it will offer customers an intimate space experience. Where Virgin carriers will be for groups of around six, only one passenger at a time will be allowed on SXC’s Lynx airship from its space station in Hato Airport, Curacao, allowing unparalleled views of the earth and universe beyond.

Lynx, a ground-breaking reusable space ship, has been equipped with new technology whereby rocket engines can be switched on or off at will, meaning that there will be no disposed rocket in the takeoff process, allowing the ship to make several flights a day. Passengers will sit in the craft and will be launched in to space, viewing earth from outside the atmosphere sat next to their pilot, before heading down to land.

Curacao has been selected by SXC for several reasons, not least because as a luxurious warm Caribbean setting it will appeal to its high net worth clientele – but also because of its proximity to the equator, meaning easier access to the atmosphere, clear air space and consistently good weather conditions. New York and US clients can get there fairly easily.

The SXC Space experience will start, says Mol, with a horizontal take-off from Curacao. A powerful thrust will take the aircraft upwards (within minutes it can achieve an altitude of 100 km), accelerating into the sky for one minute with such thrust the sound barrier will be broken, and then with force from four rocket engines it will break through the atmosphere in to space. Here, at 192,000 feet, high above the earth, the engines will be switched off, allowing for several minutes of peaceful gliding above the majestic earth, before returning to land. The whole event will be 60 minutes in total.

Almost anyone will be able take part in the adventure, Mol says, assuming they are medically fit. They will embark on a training program in preparation with Space XC training missions. Mol is starting with an airport adjoining Curacao’s but has long term plans to build a new Space Centre in Curacao to accompany the venture, which will offer G-centrifuge simulators, to experience the feeling of G force when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. There will also be L-39 Albatross jets on hand to allow people to practice flying in performance jets with helmets, an altitude chamber, and a Zero G flight simulator to experience weightlessness.

Mol sees space travel’s potential as being way beyond a one-off novelty. “We want to be the first. I think there’s potential for an entire space aviation industry,” he says, adding that Space travel will also offer logistical and environmental benefits if adopted on a wider scale. “Space travel is 4-6 times faster than a conventional plane, and only requires fuel to propel it out of the earth’s atmosphere whereupon it drifts on its own, so it is also environmentally friendly. If escalated it could mean that far-apart cities such as Frankfurt, Sydney, and Hong Kong could be just hours apart,” he says. Indeed, this could lead to the feeling of time travel in some instances, as it will take only 1.5 hours to reach Sydney by space aircraft from London, says Mol.

For now, though, Mol is starting with his first Space expedition flights. These went on sale in April this year and the 2014 launch will coincide with the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first trip to the moon. Prices will start at $95,000 per person per flight including a three-day stay and “experience” of the Space XC centre and five-star accommodation in a hotel nearby. Mol hopes to build an entire tourism proposition for Curacao and is already in talks with hotel groups, he says, to create space travel packages. “We’re pioneers. There are no limits to where this could go. We’re offering people the opportunity to go where few others have gone before.” Have you booked your space odyssey?

For further details contact: +31 655 816 417. www.spacexc.com