Rutan's tourism vision includes orbiting hotel

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One-man version of SpaceShipOne may be next stage in development of space holidays

A one-person version of Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne that reaches an orbit of 130km (81 miles) to rendezvous with an orbiting hotel may form the next stage of Burt Rutan's private manned spaceflight plans.

Speaking at a lecture organised by the Manx Festival of Aviation at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, the aerospace designer detailed how such an orbital vehicle could be evolved from his existing three-man, suborbital 3,000kg (6,600lb) SpaceShipOne. The amount of spacecraft mass dedicated to fuel would be increased to achieve the greater altitude and speed required.

"We'd have a small cramped cabin for the orbital flight and you'd be in it for a long time. You'd want to go to a hotel [because of that] and for orbital tourism you'd want an altitude of 130km," says Rutan.

In his lecture, Rutan referred to plans by Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, to develop a space hotel based on NASA-originated inflatable habitat technology.

Before Rutan begins work on orbital flight technology, he will attempt to win the X-Prize, which requires two suborbital flights within two weeks carrying a mass equivalent to three people. Rutan's first flight is scheduled for 29 September and his second for 4 October. But before he flies for the second time, competing Canadian X-Prize team da Vinci Project is scheduled to try to reach space in its Wild Fire rocket on 2 October.

Another X-Prize team, Space Transportation, saw its Rubicon One rocket fail a flight test in Washington on 8 August seconds after launch. The engines of the $20,000 rocket failed after it reached an altitude of 1,000ft (305m). Rubicon One's remains crashed to Earth 61m from its launch site after its parachute system failed. It was carrying three dummies representing the pilot and passengers.

ROB COPPINGER / LONDON