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/ / Try before you fly: Orbite sets schedule for luxurious astronaut orientation sessions

Try before you fly: Orbite sets schedule for luxurious astronaut orientation sessions

Orbite’s director of astronaut training, Brienna Rommes, enjoys a zero-G airplane flight. (Orbite Photo)

Wanna take a ride to space? There’s a smorgasbord of spaceflight shaping up for paying customers, ranging from the suborbital tours planned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to the orbital trips offered by SpaceX. What will those rides be like, and how will they differ from each other?

Starting in August, a Seattle-based startup called Orbite (pronounced “Or-beet,” French-style) will offer three-day orientation sessions to let customers sample the astronaut experience and find out for themselves.

“We’ll give them a ‘try before you buy’ experience, and educate them on the different offerings that are out there,” Orbite co-founder and CEO Jason Andrews, a veteran of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries, told GeekWire.

Andrews and Orbite’s other co-founder, French-born tech entrepreneur Nicolas Gaume, have set the schedule for astronaut orientation courses that’ll include virtual-reality simulations, a zero-G flight and a high-G flight — all designed to provide a taste of space without tying the participant down to a particular program.

The first session will take place Aug. 23-27 at La Co(o)rniche, a five-star boutique hotel on France’s Atlantic coast that’s owned by Gaume’s family. Three other sessions will be offered at the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, Fla., starting on Nov. 11, Nov. 25 and Dec. 2. Each session is limited to 10 participants.

Zero Gravity Corp. and Europe’s Air Zero G by Novespace will fly the participants on airplanes that can provide measured doses of weightlessness, about 30 seconds at a time. Other subcontractors will put them in the cockpits of planes such as P-51 Mustangs or Extra 330LX’s, which can deliver multiple G’s of acceleration.

Seasoned astronaut trainer Brienna Rommes will lead the sessions, which will include classroom instruction as well as a space-food cooking class and a stargazing session. When each day is done, trainees can lounge in a swanky resort setting.

“The integration of space and luxury hospitality will provide attendees with a one-of-a-kind, immersive experience,” Gaume said in a news release.

Prices begin at $29,500 per person. That’s a stratospheric sum for most people, but Andrews says it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for those who’d consider spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a suborbital space ride with Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic, or tens of millions of dollars on a SpaceX orbital trip.

“This is the insurance policy,” he said. “Come spend $29,500 to make sure you’re going to love it before you go and spend a lot more.”

Andrews sees a second target market for the Orbite experience.

“For a lot of people who are just passionate about space, they’d love to have an authentic space experience, yet they can’t afford hundreds of thousands of dollars to go on a rocket,” he said. “This may be as close as they get to that experience.”

The options for would-be spacefliers are certainly on the rise: About 600 “Future Astronauts” have already made reservations with Virgin Galactic for rides on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane. Meanwhile, Blue Origin is auctioning off an open seat for its first crewed suborbital spaceflight, scheduled for July. And SpaceX has two private-enterprise orbital flights booked, including a free-flying space odyssey in September and a trip to the International Space Station next January.

Andrews said Orbite’s training won’t get into the operational specifics for any particular space vehicle, but will focus instead on the rules of the road for spaceflight in general. “Our job is to train you to fly on any vehicle,” he said.

And if the company’s business plan stays on track, there’s much more to come: Andrews and Gaume are considering sites for a dedicated training facility with a centrifuge for high-G training, a neutral-buoyancy pool for zero-G simulations, a lab for science experiments and luxury accommodations for astronauts-to-be.

Andrews said the first facility could open in the 2023-2024 time frame, with more locations to follow. “We’re going to give a full reveal at the proper time, later this summer,” he promised.

Getting to that next stage could require raising more money than it would take to buy an orbital ride, but Andrews said Orbite is up to the challenge.

“The company has been self-funded by the founders and some other select outside investors,” he said. “We’re not disclosing how much we’ve raised — but we’re definitely spending money.”

Wanna take a ride to space? There’s a smorgasbord of spaceflight shaping up for paying customers, ranging from the suborbital tours planned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to the orbital trips offered by SpaceX. What will those rides be like, and how will they differ from each other? Starting in August, a Seattle-based startup called Orbite (pronounced “Or-beet,” French-style) will offer three-day orientation sessions to let customers sample the astronaut experience and find out for themselves. “We’ll give them a ‘try before you buy’ experience, and educate them on the different offerings that are out there,” Orbite co-founder… Read MoreSpace, Jason Andrews, Nicolas Gaume, Orbite, space tourism, Travel

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