When Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo made its flight into space, it was the beginning of a new kind of space race. Companies like Branson’s Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin had, for years, looked to take civilians into space. Finally, it happened, raising the question about how much money it would mean for aerospace companies.

And just as space tourism made its debut, it looked like one of the industry's first and oldest companies might miss out.

What You Need To Know

  • Zero-G does not travel to space but defines itself as a space tourism company because of the zero-gravity experience it provides

  • The cost varies but can be about $215,000

  • Zero-G is planning to increase flights out of Long Beach with a $10 million investment in a new plane

  • The second plane, also a 727, would allow the company to double its flights and seek out more research business with entities like NASA

Zero-G, which debuted in 2004 and has some flights out of Long Beach, was the first to offer a similar service, carrying hundreds of passengers a year into the sky. While the company’s Boeing 727 does not go into space, it creates a zero-gravity environment for 30 seconds at a time, counteracting the effects of gravity by following a parabolic flight plan.

The company had fallen on hard times in 2019 with lengthy delays that cost money, the resignation of its CEO and growing debt to vendors. On the cusp of closing, company investors reached out to Matt Gohd.

“It’s iconic, it’s huge, it’s just been mismanaged,” he thought at the time. “It’s a great brand and has a lot of potential.”

He looked at the problems facing the company, talked to some investors and charted a path forward. Before the company could rehab its finances, the pandemic grounded the plane again, forcing furloughs and more tough decisions. But as the vaccine became available and effective COVID-19 testing became more widely available, Zero-G got back to business. In 2020, it launched 30 flights, and this year, Gohd projects the company will hit a record 1,000 passengers. 

Now, the company is looking to raise another $10 million to purchase a second plane with hopes of doubling the number of flights it can perform in a year. Gohd said the new plane will be specially outfitted, but the company isn’t ready to announce the new ways in which it will be outfitted. That plane could be based out of Las Vegas, but will mean more visits to Long Beach.

The company has long survived on contracts from NASA to test hardware, how certain fluids react to no gravity, and train astronauts. Gohd said the company recently received a $7 million contract from NASA to provide services for future training and tests.

But Gohd also sees future growth in the average consumer. Spaceflights on difficult-to-maintain equipment like the SpaceX Falcon 9 cost millions per person and don’t fly often. Zero-G can provide a similar experience, offering passengers about seven or eight minutes of zero gravity over the course of an entire flight. 

Zero-G already spent 10 years working with the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the 727 for zero-gravity flights, which is a piece of the company’s intellectual property.

Otherwise, it’s subject to the same rules as airlines and tests many passengers for COVID-19 before flights.

Space tourism has received increasing public attention, with billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Branson taking flight above and beyond. Even Star Trek legend William Shatner has taken a trip to the great beyond on a Blue Origin New Shepard.

Disruptors have appeared like Space Perspective, which uses a capsule carried upward by a balloon. That service is 125,000 per passenger. Zero-G can cost about $215,000 total for a full load of passengers.

Branson, the flamboyant founder of Virgin Galactic, believes there could be room for up to 20 space tourism companies. Many aerospace analysts, like American University space policy professor Howard McCurdy right now only see a market for the wealthy.

Gohd is betting that more people will see how his service offers a similar experience to more expensive, less proven trips out of orbit. 

“No matter how much money you have you’re not getting up with the other guys for years,” he said.