From SpaceX to Virgin Galactic: The race to space tourism

Could people soon be going on holiday to space?
Could people soon be going on holiday to space?

Space exploration has long been confined to highly-trained astronauts but more ordinary people could be blasting off within a few years - albeit, extremely wealthy ordinary people.

2018 saw a number of big names, including Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos edge closer towards making space tourism a reality.

So how did they progress in the last 12 months?

Virgin Galactic

Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic carried out four successful tests in 2018, after its original spaceship crashed in 2014, killing one of the two pilots.

In mid-December, the SpaceShipTwo rocket ship made it to the edge of space and back, reaching an altitude of 271,268ft (82,683m)- officially entering outer space according to US standards.

Hundreds watched as the space tourism plane took off and successfully landed back at the test centre in California, which Sir Richard described as "a relief".

The aircraft carried two pilots, who were released by a carrier plane at 43,000ft (13,106m), reaching a top speed of 2.9 times the speed of sound.

SpaceX

Elon Musk's SpaceX has its eyes set on the Moon for its space tourism project, with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa scheduled to blast off in 2023.

The company's Big Falcon Rocket will take Mr Maezawa and six to eight artists, architects, designers and other creative people on the week-long journey around the Moon without a lunar landing - the first-ever private commercial trip of its kind.

It's not clear exactly how much the entrepreneur paid for the trip, though Mr Musk has said it is "a lot of money".

The Big Falcon Rocket is still under development and will be subject to a number of unmanned test launches before it takes any passengers.

Blue Origin

Another name in the competition to take people into space is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, which, in July, managed to shoot a capsule higher than it has done before.

Named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, the New Shepard rocket blasted off, climbing to an altitude of 389,846ft (118,825m) once the booster had separated.

"We will have to leave this planet," Mr Bezos said earlier this year.

"We're going to leave it, and it's going to make this planet better. We'll come and go, and the people who want to stay, will stay.

"The Earth is not a very good place to do heavy industry. It's convenient for us right now."