— Sweepstakes and raffles are offering suborbital spaceflights as prizes.
— The first commercially available suborbital flights are expected in a year.
— Spaceports are gearing up for crush of new business.
Pining for trip to space, but can't afford the ride? There is another option.
Dozens of companies and agencies are giving away suborbital space trips for promotional or educational purposes. The latest entry comes from Melbourne, Florida-based ARES Institute, a non-profit set up to promote space exploration and educational programs.
"The point of the project is to raise interest and awareness in the public. Most people normally wouldn't be able to fly in space because they can't afford it," ARES executive director Matthew Travis told Discovery News.
ARES announced last week it will give away a ticket for a suborbital spaceflight in 2013. It hopes to use the promotion to raise funds for its other programs.
The winner won't be the only one flying gratis. Symatec Corp., which makes computer software, last year named Jorge Patricio León López from Chile the winner of its spaceflight givewaway, and Audi selected Ian Anderson of Staffordshire, U.K., as the recipient for its seat aboard Virgin Galactic's spaceship.
Virgin CEO Richard Branson said he expects passenger flights to begin in a year to 18 months.
Other companies that have run or are running spaceflight sweepstakes include Guinness, Intel Semiconductor, Gillette, Volvo and 7UP. There's also a sprinkling of lottery and gambling websites promising spaceflights as top prizes, as well as some raffle-type ventures, such as espacetickets.com and voyagetospace.com.
Ticket prices for suborbital spaceflights range from about $100,000 to $200,000, with passenger service expected to begin in late 2011 or 2012. Companies preparing for commercial suborbital passenger service include Virgin Galactic, a U.S.-based offshoot of Branson's Virgin Group of London, and XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif.
Other firms, such as Masten Space Systems, also of Mojave, are focusing on suborbital launchers that fly experiments and payloads, not passengers.
Masten announced last week it would make a test flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to see if the military-operated spaceport can accommodate its plans for weekly suborbital flights beginning in 2012.
"We're hedging our bets," Masten's chief financial officer Michael Mealling told Discovery News. "We know how the Mojave airspace works."
Within a couple years, Mealling expects the country's spaceports to be supporting one or two commercial spaceflights per day, a daunting prospect for launch ranges that currently handle a flight about every other month.
"None of the ranges knows how to deal with it," Mealling said.
By 2014 or so, those launchers also may be transporting people into orbit. Next week, Space Exploration Technologies plans to test-fly a space capsule called Dragon. NASA is buying space launch services from SpaceX, as well as a second company called Orbital Sciences Corp., to ferry cargo to the International Space Station after the shuttles are retired next year.
But, as SpaceX chief Elon Musk likes to point out, Dragon is designed with windows and you don't need windows for cargo.