x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Down to earth island nation plans a rocketing space-flight venture

Curaçao, the Caribbean island nation, is preparing for its first spaceflight in 2014 - hoping to be the first country outside of the US to develop a commercial space industry.

Abdul Nasser El Hakim, Curaçao’s minister of economic development, said 'the development of a spaceport in the country is hoped to spur development of industries including medical research and transnational education'. Christopher Pike / The National
Abdul Nasser El Hakim, Curaçao’s minister of economic development, said 'the development of a spaceport in the country is hoped to spur development of industries including medical research and transnational education'. Christopher Pike / The National

Curaçao is preparing to blast off into the space industry.

The Caribbean island nation, best known for the citrus-based beverage of the same name, is expecting to launch its first commercial space flight in 2014.

The country's government hopes that the launch - touted as the first commercial space flight outside the United States - will turbocharge its tourism industry.

About 60 tickets, costing US$99,000 (Dh330,588) per head, have already been sold for the inaugural flight. Xcor, a space-flight company based in California, has developed the space plane that will be used for the suborbital launch.

The country has partnered KLM, the Dutch airline, to sponsor the launch, which has been under development for about three years.

The development of a spaceport in the country is hoped to spur development of industries including medical research and transnational education, said Abdul Nasser El Hakim, the country's minister of economic development.

"Our space plane is not only for tourism, but a complete pillar of our knowledge economy," he said.

Curaçao is also well placed to allow for research of the atmosphere over the Amazon Basin, said Andrew Nelson, the chief operating officer of Xcor.

But a significant challenge is development of laws and regulations to govern commercial spaceflight, currently almost nonexistent.

"This industry doesn't have 100 years of aviation as a historical base," he said.

The US federal aviation administration estimates the space tourism industry will grow to $1 billion during the next 10 years. A number of locations, including Ras Al Khaimah, and Scotland, have been touted as potential spaceports as the industry scours the globe for suitable launchpads.

Virgin Galactic, which sold a 32 per cent stake to Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments in 2009, has opted for New Mexico as a launchpad for its space flights.

Curaçao is betting that the rather laid-back island nation will prove more attractive to well-heeled tourists travelling from the US, Latin America and Europe.

ghunter@thenational.ae

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