Starchaser catches ESA tourism deal

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UK rocket developer Starchaser Industries has been awarded a €150,000 ($194,000) European Space Agency contract to assess the company's Thunderstar booster and Starchaser 5A capsule for space tourism, writes Rob Coppinger.

The Thunderstar-Starchaser system has been designed to carry one pilot and two passengers to above 100km (62 miles), before returning them to the Earth using a parachute landing system.

The study, part of ESA's Survey of European Privately-Funded Vehicles for Commercial Human Space Flight, will verify the feasibility of Thunderstar-Starchaser and its ability to meet space tourists' expectations.

"We're determined to ensure that Europe doesn't miss out on the potentially huge space tourism industry," says Starchaser chief executive Steve Bennett. The company's business plan will also be examined as part of the study.

Starchaser has opened offices in New Mexico and plans regular tourist flights from the state's Spaceport America from 2009. Starchaser recently attempted to test its 15,400lb (68.5kN)-thrust Storm engine at UK Royal Air Force base Spadeadam, but aborted the test due to igniter problems. It expects to restart testing later this year.

Blog: Read Rob Coppinger's conspiracy theory about why the UK scientific establishment has suddenly become pro-manned spaceflight