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20 Minutes With: SpaceVIP Co-Founder Roman Chiporukha

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Space tourism is no longer a figment of the imagination. It soon won’t just be the domain of billionaires, either. 

That’s what Roman Chiporukha is trying to achieve as co-founder of the bespoke tour operator SpaceVIP and Space Prize, a competition aimed at raising a generation of scientifically engaged women bound for the stars.

“The future of space travel requires that more people take a greater interest,” Chiporukha says. “We hope that efforts such as Space Prize will pay massive dividends over the years and allow people to look up, learn, and aspire.”

In addition to grand prizes, Space Prize hopes to provide funding to distribute 10,000 telescopes, and has built out a space curriculum to share with educators, covering topics such as the commercial space industry, why space matters, and forward-looking philosophical and existential concepts.

“Personally, we believe this educational piece in achieving universal space literacy is the most impactful because of its potential to scale and reach the masses worldwide,” Chiporukha says. 

Chiporukha, 41, spoke with Penta about the future of space travel, space-adjacent travel opportunities, his efforts in brokering a US$50 million ticket to the International Space Station, and the importance of education.

PENTA: How did that much-discussed US$50 million ticket to the ISS come about?

Roman Chiporukha: My foray into space started in 2018 when our lifestyle and travel firm Roman & Erica [co-founded with wife, Erica Jackowitz] connected with Axiom Space, who were just starting to promote Ax1, the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. Axiom approached us to support them in making the mission possible. It took about two years, and in November 2020 we were successful in introducing Axiom Space to the third and final astronaut for the Ax1 mission. 

The experience highlighted to me the importance of inspiring the next generation of private astronauts, leading me to founding SpaceVIP to promote the advancement of humanity’s unity in space exploration.

Besides massive one-off tickets to the ISS, what else are you doing with SpaceVIP?

With the successful engagement of Ax1, we realized that the public had only heard about Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, but that there are so many incredible space and space-adjacent opportunities at very different price points. Whether on Earth, in the ocean, or in space, there is a plethora of opportunities. 

One can do an analog mission, a simulated space experience on Earth that gives you the feeling of being on the moon while actually being in the Negev desert or Hawaii. You can also dive in an unlimited depth submarine to the Titanic or the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the world’s ocean. Spaceship Neptune is an eight-person capsule that floats 20 miles above the surface so that you can experience the curvature of the Earth while looking out at the darkness of the universe. This experience is the lowest barrier to entry for a private astronaut experience, as it requires almost no training and the capsule is pressurized. In fact, we are working with several world-renowned chefs to cook the first dinner at the edge of space.

Roman Chiporukha (left) with his wife, Erica Jackowitz

Courtesy of Roman Chiporukha

What are some of the main initiatives with Space Prize?

Space Prize came about from a deep dive we conducted on the role space-based innovation has had on our current lives, whether that’s technologies we use daily and take for granted, or the sort of advancements that can have a direct effect on life on this planet. In the midst of this research we realized that only 11% of the 600 people that have been to space were women. These numbers mirror the proportion of female executives in the aerospace and various STEM industries. So we founded Space Prize to promote universal space literacy and gender equity in New Space.

We started this incredible initiative with Space Prize Challenge NYC last year, bringing together young female leaders from a public school in each of New York’s five boroughs. The challenge consists of a writing contest in the first stage and a video submission for the finalists. Among the 25 finalists, five winners were given the grand prize of a Zero Gravity flight and mentorship from an influential woman in the space industry. The finalists also participated in a simulated mission to Mars at the Challenger Center in Manhattan and were featured on a massive billboard in Times Square, thanks to a partnership with our dear friends at the Female Quotient.

Of the numerous space travel companies out there, what do you see becoming most prominent or successful?

We are in many ways only seeing the tip of the iceberg in space travel and there will be many more experiences to be introduced in my lifetime that will revolutionize the industry.

One of the experiences worth highlighting are space balloons like those offered by Space Perspective, with their Spaceship Neptune set to launch in 2024. At US$125,000 per person, the price point is more accessible relative to other space experiences. 

I think the zero-gravity planes are incredible, and you get to experience lunar, martian, and zero gravity. I’m surprised that more people are not doing it. There are several other incredible companies that will be launching lower-Earth orbit vehicles by 2026. Imagine a half-day experience where you orbit Earth two or three times and are back for lunch!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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