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Curacao: Space tourist hotspot?

Curacao is known for its Caribbean beaches, Dutch colonial history and luxurious resorts, but now the island territory in the Netherlands Antilles is hoping it'll be known as a tourist launch pad as well.

Today, Space Experience Curacao and California-based XCOR Aerospace jointly announced that they've signed a memorandum of understanding that could lead to suborbital space tourism flights in 2014. The deal follows up on intentions by the Curacao government and airport authority to encourage spaceport operations on the island.

The deal is structured as a "wet lease," an arrangement that's often used in the aviation and maritime industries. The Curacao venture would lease XCOR's Lynx rocket plane, pay for the fuel and run the tourist operation. But XCOR would hold onto responsibility for piloting the craft, maintaining it and perhaps giving customers their spaceflight training. XCOR worked out a similar arrangement last year for a South Korean space tourism project.

The idea is that such a leasing arrangement would make it easier for the U.S. government to approve spaceflight operations in a foreign country, since Americans would retain control of the plane and the technology. Like the Korean deal, the Curacao agreement is dependent on U.S. government approvals.

XCOR is developing a two-seat Lynx Mark I aircraft that should be capable of reaching altitudes in excess of 38 miles (61 kilometers). Flight tests are due to begin next year. The Lynx Mark II space plane would follow up on the Mark I, flying to heights above 62 miles (100 kilometers). That's the internationally recognized boundary of outer space. The ticket price? $95,000 ... which is less than half of the $200,000 cost of flying on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, and a bit less than Armadillo Aerospace's $102,000 price point.

As long as we're talking about numbers ... The Lurio Report quotes executives behind the deal as saying that it's worth $23 million to $25 million "if all the options are considered." Check out XCOR's news release for more details and quotes.


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