An Arizona engineer is jumping into the civilian space race with a truly home-grown spacecraft. Unlike the massively funded projects by Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin and others, the Hermes Spacecraft (not to be confused with the proposed but never built 1970s-era French shuttle of the same name) is being built without major corporate sponsorship or cash. The creator, Morris Jarvis, and his team are getting a bit of technical help from companies like Intel to make their dream, and hopefully the dreams of many others, a reality. His plan calls for early flights in which the 6-8 passenger Hermes craft will be taken to the edge of the atmosphere by a large balloon and released.
Providing that all the test flights work out safely, the first commercial trip would have the craft towed by balloons tethered to safety parachutes to 113,000 feet—about 21 miles high. During an undoubtedly scary free-fall back to the ground, passengers would experience about 5 minutes of weightlessness.
On later missions, the craft will ride on the back of a rocket to suborbital altitudes. Jarvis estimates civilians will be able to fly on Hermes for $25,000 for a balloon flight or $100,000 for the "E-ticket" (bonus points if you get the reference) rocket-powered version. That's quite a bit cheaper than the competition.
The Hermes virtual cockpit, which allows the craft to be piloted remotely during testing, will be on display at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco starting on August 19th.