An article in the Sunday Times of London reports that EADS Astrium will announce this week plans to provide suborbital space tourism services. The article is short on details, although EADS is apparently looking at a suborbital vehicle that would reach 100 kilometers altitude, with a per-ticket cost similar to Virgin Galactic’s going rate of $200,000. One possibility is that EADS will offer an air-launched solution using the freighter variant of the A380 super jumbo jet as the carrier aircraft, something reported back in April by Flightglobal.com and this month by Engineering News.
The Times article breathlessly claims that “Europe is to enter manned space travel for the first time” because of this project, but that’s a debatable claim. Even if EADS does go ahead with this venture, there are already ventures at least partially based in Europe that may get there first: besides Virgin Galactic (which eventually plans to operate out of Kiruna, Sweden), of course, there’s Starchaser, which is based in the UK although with growing operations in the US. There’s also ARCA, the Romanian effort that competed for the X Prize and continues work at some level; it even calls itself “The European Private Manned Space Program”. There have also been a number of other European proposals and studies in recent years. The advantage EADS has, though, is that it has financial resources that no one else save Virgin can bring to bear on this, if it chooses to do so.