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Ready for Launch?

These are the voyages of the starship Entrepreneur- boldly doing business in space.

Although space travel is currently just for the rich, entrepreneurs will be capable of catering to a wider audience once a commercial space station is in place-and that could be sooner than you think. Space Island Group, based in West Covina, California, has plans to build a privately funded space shuttle and station, complete with hotels, restaurants and attractions. The project costs between $1 billion and $2 billion per year.

"It's not a small venture thing," says Gene Meyers, founder and president of Space Island Group. "But it's still just a tiny slice of what NASA spends. We can do this because we're building on the work NASA has already done."

Meyers is enlisting the help of more than 150 engineers, many of whom worked on the original space shuttle program in the '70s. Space Island plans to build a fleet of 50 commercial shuttles at a cost of $300 million each over the next 10 years. The shuttles will each carry 100 people, and the first could be up and running by 2005, with the first commercial station fully operational by 2007.

Design plans for the station include connecting used shuttle fuselages into one spinning space hub, an idea NASA first proposed about 30 years ago. According to Meyers, entrepreneurs could rent space on the commercial station for $25 per cubic foot, per day-rates that would drop to $5 in the station's first three years. In addition, Meyers estimates that by 2012, it could cost as little as $25,000 for transportation and one week's stay in space, meaning more space tourists and more entrepreneurial opportunities. A space station, after all, isn't like a cruise ship, where tourists get off at every port, so there's plenty of business opportunities in keeping them occupied while they're up there.

But it's the opportunities that aren't even available on Earth that are truly exciting. "Anything that requires micro-gravity to develop or manufacture would be a natural for any type of space-based venture," says C.J. Wallington, professor of a space tourism development class at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Potential products include computer chips with space-grown crystals or jewelry made from metal alloys that exist only in zero gravity.

For now, you have to work with foreign governments if you want to travel into space. Government regulations make it impossible for NASA to participate in space tourism. Dennis Tito's trip was arranged with the Russian government through Arlington, Virginia-based Space Adventures. Currently, Russia charges a flat fee of $20 million per flight.

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This article was originally published in the October 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ready for Launch?.

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