NAGOYA – The startup PD AeroSpace Ltd. is developing a reusable spacecraft shaped like an airplane to carry paying customers into space by 2023.
The Nagoya-based company plans to offer space flights up to an altitude of 110 kilometers using the craft, which is capable of carrying six passengers and two pilots, at a price of ¥17 million ($153,000) per person.
Currently, 11 workers at a plant in Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture, are working to fly an unmanned test vehicle up to an altitude of 100 km.
“We would like to open a new space era (with the spacecraft),” said Shuji Ogawa, the 48-year-old president of PD AeroSpace.
Last summer, the company successfully carried out a combustion experiment with the spacecraft’s pulse detonation engine, which can switch from air-breathing mode, where propulsion is achieved through pushing out hot exhaust gases, to rocket mode.
According to the company’s plan, the spaceship will change its mode of combustion at an altitude of 15 km to ascend further, and passengers will be able to enjoy a near weightless experience for about five minutes while staring down at Earth.
By launching a reusable spacecraft from airport runways, PD AeroSpace aims to keep costs down compared to using nonreusable rockets.
Ogawa founded the startup in 2007 after being inspired by Scaled Composites LLC’s SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately owned piloted vehicle to reach space. It won the $10 million Ansari X Prize, established to encourage entrepreneurship in space travel.
The space tourism industry at one point lost steam due to a series of accidents and a reluctance to invest in the field, but it appears to have regained momentum, with U.S. companies taking the lead.
Backed by investments from firms such as ANA Holdings Inc., as well as support from some 40 expert volunteer workers, PD AeroSpace is trying to overcome numerous challenges, including the procurement of funds.
“Space has the power to attract people,” Ogawa said.