Shuji Ogawa, CEO of PD Aerospace, acknowledges that it's unlikely Asian companies can rival SpaceX, Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin, but he said there's more than enough demand to go around.
"When we have reached their present stage, they will have advanced further," he said. "Space tourism is a universal dream, not only for Japanese but for all people. It is important for us to view the Earth from space."
His Nagoya-based company is currently developing a reusable sub-orbital space plane featuring a propulsion system that alternates between jet and rocket mode. It's expected to carry eight people — two pilots and six passengers — over 100 kilometers above the Earth. The Kármán line, which lies 100 km above sea level, is the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.
PD Aerospace says it intends to conduct its first trial in 2020, with the hope of commencing tourism operations in 2023. Because Japan is small, securing testing areas has been a challenge, Ogawa said. The initial price tag for a trip is set at 14 million yen ($126,639) but Ogawa intends to eventually lower the cost to 398,000 yen ($3,600). "We want to offer space tours to ordinary people."
In comparison, Virgin Galactic charges $250,000 for a voyage designed to exceed 100 km in altitude, according the company's website. Meanwhile, a trip to Mars — 54.6 million kilometers from Earth — could cost $200,000 with SpaceX. Blue Origin has yet to reveal pricing details.
Those figures would mark a significant reduction from previous spaceflight costs.
In 2011, the world's first space tourist, American Dennis Tito, paid $20 million to travel to the International Space Station (ISS), which typically orbits 350 km above the Earth. In 2008, England-born Richard Garriott de Cayeux paid $30 million to spend 12 days on the ISS. More recently, SpaceX announced it will fly two individuals to the moon next year but didn't reveal how much the duo would be forking out.