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29 July 2012
Added "Space Debris and Its Mitigation" to the archive.
16 July 2012
Space Future has been on something of a hiatus of late. With the concept of Space Tourism steadily increasing in acceptance, and the advances of commercial space, much of our purpose could be said to be achieved. But this industry is still nascent, and there's much to do. this space.
9 December 2010
Updated "What the Growth of a Space Tourism Industry Could Contribute to Employment, Economic Growth, Environmental Protection, Education, Culture and World Peace" to the 2009 revision.
7 December 2008
"What the Growth of a Space Tourism Industry Could Contribute to Employment, Economic Growth, Environmental Protection, Education, Culture and World Peace" is now the top entry on Space Future's Key Documents list.
30 November 2008
Added Lynx to the Vehicle Designs page.
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P Collins, 17 July 2003, "Space Tourism Market Demand and the Transportation Infrastructure", Invited speech to the AIAA/ICAS Symposium 'The Next 100 Years' in honour of the Wright Brothers' first flight.
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Space Tourism Market Demand and the Transportation Infrastructure
During its first century, aviation has grown from the Wright brothers' tiny "Flyer" to become a globe-spanning activity which has changed the world we live in. However, after more than 40 years, space travel remains very different from aviation: whereas air travel is a huge, privately operated activity -- as it started, thanks to the Wright brothers -- space travel remains a government monopoly activity, as it started, in the USSR back in 1961. The paper reviews the research to date concerning the feasi-bility of commercial passenger space travel services. Based on market research showing enormous potential demand, engineers have prepared conceptual designs of passenger vehicles, and have reached consensus that a passenger vehicle capable of regular flights to and from low Earth orbit could be developed for less than the amount that G7 governments' space agencies spend every year. With such a development, tourism could grow to become the largest activity in space, leading to a genuine "aerospace" industry and a renaissance of space activities. However, this requires civilian space activities to change to follow the economically successful model of aviation centred on commercially operated passenger travel services.

It is a great pleasure and a great privilege to be invited to contribute to the Centenary celebration of one of the truly world-changing inventions of the 20th century -- Orville and Wilbur Wright's development of controlled, powered flight. It is also a particular pleasure to speak at the session on space tourism, of which I am confident the theme will be recognised in coming years as the most significant at this Symposium. The topic I was invited to discuss is the market demand and transportation infrastructure for space tourism, but it seems only appropriate to begin by giving some thought to the relation of this subject, passenger space travel, to the Wright brothers' achievement and vision.

If the word genius has any value, then we can certainly say that Orville and Wilbur Wright were engineering geniuses, not in the popular sense of being able to solve incomprehensible mathematical problems, but in having the rare combination of different abilities that enabled them to do something important that no-one else at that time was able to do. It seems reasonable to guess that if the Wright brothers were alive today, they would be working to realise passenger space travel and the future developments to which it will lead. So we might ask: "If the Wright brothers were alive today, what would they think of progress in space travel so far?" Well, if we look at their own experience in developing air travel, and at the present situation in space travel, I think we have to conclude that they would be shocked and appalled.

To see the truth of this we need to remember the treatment the Wright brothers received from the U.S. government. At the same time as they were pursuing flight as a hobby, Professor Samuel Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was funded by the U.S. army to develop what he called an "aerodrome". Though Langley was a fine researcher, he did not make the conceptual breakthroughs necessary to achieve flight. However, the Smithsonian supported Langley, even years after his death, and refused to recognise the Wrights' achievement. It even collaborated in 1914 with Glenn Curtiss in flying a modified variant of one of Langley's failed attempts at an aeroplane -- where-upon they claimed that this proved that Langley was the co-inventor of flight with the Wright brothers.

Orville and Wilbur could not accept such dishonesty -- and so the Smithsonian refused to recognise their invention. It was not until 44 years after the Wright brothers' first flight, 1947, that the government-funded Smithsonian finally acknowledged what everyone else in the world already knew -- that the Wright Brothers alone invented flight.

This may have been the most shameful episode in the Smithsonian's history. So it would be comforting to believe that its shockingly dishonest mistreatment of the Wright brothers -- who contributed perhaps more to U.S. technological prowess and prestige than anyone else in the 20th century -- was a unique aberration. However, we have to face the fact that such self-serving behaviour is not anomalous; it is typical of governments everywhere, including particularly "democratic" ones, as they act to protect the interests of economically powerful groups within the economy against others, notably newcomers and the general public. It is indeed quite similar to the British government's decades-long refusal to award the "Longitude Prize" to John Harrison, the genius inventor of the chronometer.

The defining feature of governments is that they employ force to achieve their purposes, and controlling this force to work for the public good, instead of for the benefit of the people comprising the government, is the central problem that humans face in trying to create and maintain free and fair societies. In this context it is relevant to refer to the work of another American genius, Professor James Buchanan, who received the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his work on the economic analysis of governments' behaviour and how to control it. The basic assump-tion of the field of economics concerns human psychology -- it it that humans are intelligent animals who use their brains to improve their situation. Adam Smith, the father of economics, analysed the implications of assuming that people act in their own self-interest in the case of business people and their customers; however, although he also noted that government officials "...have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public", he did not analyse the implications of this in detail. Buchanan and the colleagues with whom he pioneered the field of Public Choice economics analysed its implications for the behaviour of politicians and bureaucrats, and for the formal constraints needed on government [1]. Niskanen extended this work, showing that in order to constrain government organisations, or "bureaus", to act in the public interest, their activities need to be the subject of close scrutiny not by politicians but by large numbers of the general public [2].

It is widely recognised that the USA has an exemplary Constitution, designed both to ensure the provision of the services that only government can provide, and also to protect the people from government's inexorable tendency to become tyrannical. However, governments become more tyrannical the larger they grow, and the U.S. government is surely no exception to this, despite the Constitution. In order to appreciate this we do not need to consider anything controversial such as foreign policy; we need only consider the case of Prohibition when the U.S. government imposed a disastrous law invasive of private liberty and against the wishes of an enormous number of its own population -- or the fact that the U.S. government today keeps a larger proportion of the national population imprisoned than any other government in the world.

So the shockingly dishonest mistreatment of two of the nation's greatest geniuses, whom we are celebrating at this symposium, by a government organisation should not be thought of as an aberration, but as typical. Every government system is different in innumerable details, and the 44 years that it took the U.S. government to finally admit what everyone else in the world already knew can perhaps be seen as the "cycle time" of the U.S. federal government system in correcting an error.

This digression brings us directly back to our main topic -- since it is now 42 years since Alan Shepard performed the first space flight by a U.S. citizen. Of course Shepard was a government employee -- it's as if the U.S. army-funded Langley had succeeded in developing controlled, powered flight. It is therefore extremely striking that no private US citizen has yet been permitted to travel to space, but only a tiny number of government employees and related invitees selected by the U.S. government's 45-year old monopoly space agency, Nasa. In addition, despite having spent an astonishing $1 trillion of taxpayers' money on nominally civilian space activities (that is, nearly $1,000/second for 40 years, measured in 2003$), the U.S. Government has not reduced the cost of traveling to space at all.

So if we were to ask the Wright brothers what they thought of space flight today, perhaps in such terms as: "Don't you think our space agencies are doing a wonderful job?" they would not be impressed -- they would surely laugh bitterly: "Are you joking? What did you expect? You left it to the U.S. government. Look how they treated us!

The U.S. government's 45-year old monopoly space agency, Nasa currently has a traveling exhibition called "Starship 2040" which includes a mock-up of a small module which it suggests might be feasible for tourism by 2040 -- which would be 79 years after Alan Shepard. Based on this we can perhaps guess what would have happened if Langley had indeed invented flight: at the rate of development of space travel proposed by the U.S. government, passenger air travel would have started in 1982. In fact, by that date private passenger air travel, as initiated by the Wright brothers, already exceeded 1/2 billion people/year, or 1.5 million passengers/day! Fortunately, 44 years seems to be a better estimate than Nasa's estimate of 79 years. For it is surely not unrealistic to hope to see private sub-orbital space flights -- that is, short trips of just a few minutes like that made by Alan Shepard himself -- starting by 2005. If they do start then, it seems likely to be with little or no help from government space agencies, which continue to spend $20 billion/year of taxpayers' money on non-science space activities of little economic value, as discussed in [3].

Aviation pioneered by the Wright brothers contrasts sharply with space flight pioneered by governments, most notably in providing transportation services to the general public whereas space agencies provide no such services to the public, for whom their activities are largely incomprehensible. In terms of cost-performance the results are predictably disastrous: despite Nasa's use of $1 trillion of taxpayers' money, the first private U.S. citizen to pay for a space flight, Dennis Tito, had to fly on the 1,657th Soyuz rocket -- essentially the same vehicle that carried Yuri Gagarin 40 years earlier in 1961! Tito also faced public abuse from the then Nasa administrator [3]. If that $1 trillion had been used as productively as the cumulative investment in the civil aviation industry launched by the Wright brothers, we would have a nearly $1 trillion/year space travel industry today. This failure of "space" to follow in the economically successful footsteps of "aero" represents a massive hiatus in "aerospace" development in the U.S.A. due largely to the influence of the cold war. As a consequence, the U.S. government decided to compete with the Soviet Union on its own terms in space, and established a monopoly agency which quickly developed self-serving habits, such as holding invitation-only press events (paid for by taxpayers), which are extremely effective in minimising critical media scrutiny.

If the Wright brothers were developing passenger space travel today -- well, obviously they would develop services that the public want to buy. Government space agencies periodically pay for surveys of public support for their budgets; but what they have never done -- except finally, grudgingly, in just the last two years, with a tiny budget, and with minimal publicity -- is ask the public what they want, and specifically whether they would like to travel to space.


In a paper presented at the 1986 IAF Congress, a colleague and I wrote: "Great interest must therefore attach to any detailed market surveys that are performed to determine the likely level of demand for space tourism services of various kinds" [4]. At that time the idea of space tourism was not considered a serious topic within the space industry, and the proposal was met with silence -- which is the first point to be made about passenger demand for space travel.


Surely the most striking feature of the data on the demand for passenger space travel is how very little data there is. In view of the fact that Nasa is required by U.S. federal law " encourage to the maximum extent possible the fullest commercial use of space", and other government agencies such as Esa, Nasda and the BNSC have similar responsibilities, it is clearly wrong for them to ignore a potentially major new market for space transportation. Such a decision might be acceptable if the agencies were achieving great success in their preferred activities, but the economic performance of the non-science activities in which they have collectively invested $1 trillion is disastrous: the resulting commercial turnover is about 1/50 of what ordinary companies would have achieved with the same investment.

However, this behaviour is in close agreement with Niskanen's analysis of the economic behaviour of bureaucratic organisations, in which, as he explains succinctly, individual officials "..have no incentive to know or seek to know the public good, nor to work for the public good" [2]. It is particularly striking that space agencies continue to rigidly ignore the passenger market even in the early years of the 21st century while the space industry is shrinking drastically for lack of demand: U.S. aerospace employment has fallen to its lowest level for 5 years [5], and both the European monopoly launch supplier, Arianespace, and the remaining European monopoly manufacturer of large satellites, EADS, are cutting staff by a further 30% [6, 7].

Prior to the first market research data published in 1994, "guesstimates" had been published by Ehricke [8], Citron [9] and the author [4]. As part of a Nasa study of future launch markets, some more detailed "guesstimates" were also published in 1994 [10]. In view of the growing evidence that tourism is the only activity capable of growing large enough to develop space economically, it seems clear that having relied on government monopoly organisations for access to space has greatly delayed its realisation. Indeed, in view of the growing interest in sub-orbital space travel services, which could easily have started during the 1970s, this delay caused by space agencies has reached decades already.


The second very striking feature of the data on the demand for passenger space travel is that it is hugely positive, across all categories -- age, sex, income-level and country -- everywhere and every time that people have been surveyed. In 1993 I was finally able to use a small budget to perform the first ever market research on the subject, as a Science & Technology Agency Fellow in Japan; with a number of colleagues I distributed a pamphlet and questionnaire to 3030 people selected quasi-randomly from all age-groups, and roughly nation-wide. As Figure 1 shows, a substantial majority of the general population, both men and women, said they wished to travel to space: the youngest were the most keen, but even many older people also said they would like to buy such a service.

Figure 2 shows the response to the same questionnaire delivered by telephone in the U.S.A. The main difference is that U.S. women are somewhat less enthusiastic than men, which is presumably due to the military connection and more "macho/techno" image of space flight in the U.S.A. than in Japan.

Figure 1: Wish to travel to space by age-group, Japan [11]
Figure 2: Wish to travel to space by age-group (U.S.A.) [12]

In response to the question "How many months' salary would you pay for a space flight?", some 70% of those wishing to travel to space in Japan, North America and Germany said they would pay several months' salary, and in each country a few percent said they would pay even 1 year's salary or more [11, 12, 13]. Bekey usefully surveyed various different studies as of 1998 [14], as Crouch did in 2001 [15]. More recently Kelly Space & Technology Inc [16] and Futron Inc [17], in studying potential markets for reusable launch vehicles for Nasa, surveyed the potential demand for space tourism -- using Nasa funds for this purpose for the first time. Both studies concluded that passenger travel offers the most promising market for space transportation.

The great popularity of passenger space travel makes the lack of data even less excusable. It is indicative of space agencies' failure to follow aviation's successful lead, as well as their failure to do work that has economic value. There are many striking examples of space agencies refusing to act appropriately, even after having paid for and published research stating these facts. For example, in the U.S.A. the Nasa administrator refused for more than three years to make its report "General Public Space Travel and Tourism" [18] available through its web-site, and even today it is not directly findable -- only indirectly [19] through a link to another site [20]. In Japan, the director of planning at the government's National Aerospace Laboratory ( NAL), even after having paid $4,000 for a survey in the U.S.A., and having co-authored four papers including statements such as "...the demand apparently has the potential to grow to many times the most optimistic projections for existing com-mercial space activities" [12], stopped all work on the subject, while continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars/year on activities with little economic value, for six years -- until it was decided to merge the NAL with other research organisations. These examples are sadly typical of space industry officials who feel no pressure to contribute to economic growth. At a time when commercial demand for space transportation (ie satellite launch) has been shrinking progressively, and the U.S. and Japanese economies are in their worst crises for 50 years due precisely to the lack of investment in commercially promising new businesses, this deeply irresponsible attitude has been disastrous for taxpayers.

In summary, it is now recognised world-wide that there is a potentially very large market for passenger space travel services. There remains a great need for more market research, as discussed in [15]. This should be performed in collaboration with aviation and other travel-related organisations, of which the thinking is based on supplying passenger services. This matches the facts that the most vigorous advocate of passenger space travel within the U.S. government is the FAA's Associate Director for Commercial Space Transportation (AST), and the main organisation working for it in Japan is the Japanese Aeronautical Association (JAA). How-ever, it is important that the need for more market research on space tourism should not be used as an excuse for further delaying work towards its realisation; it should rather be widened to include research on a range of related matters. These include the planning of many aspects of passenger space flight services as seen from the point of view of passengers, including vehicle specifications, passenger cabin interior design, orbital accom-modation facilities and thence to the entire range of infrastructure needed.


In trying to envisage the details of the future development of passenger space travel services, and what vehicles and other infrastructure will be needed, the historical development of passenger air travel offers a useful precedent. In combination with elements of the hotel industry and the cruise-liner industry, civil aviation seems to offer a fairly complete model for passenger space travel services. For the regulatory aspects, in addition to aviation and other safety regulations there will be a need for traffic rules [21], police services, specialised pilot services (as on difficult-to-navigate waterways), and possibly an equivalent of coastguard services. However, what we may expect to see a few decades in the future depends both on what is technically possible, and on how much is invested in coming years to realise passenger space travel.


Very similar to the situation concerning demand, there is strikingly little information on the technical possibilities for passenger space travel, but all the information that does exist is positive. The lack of data is due to government space agencies -- never having commisioned a feasibility study of a dedicated passenger launch vehicle in more than 40 years.

In order to understand the potential it is perhaps useful first to dispel the remains of a very widespread myth -- that in order to provide space travel services a vehicle like the U.S. government's "space shuttle" is needed. From this it is commonly concluded that, since that vehicle costs about $100 million/ passenger/flight, space tourism is therefore a fantasy, or at least conceivable only in the far future after several more decades of government-funded space technology. The most important point to note is that the "space shuttle" was designed to military specifications; its hypothetical cost/passenger is therefore of no more relevance to space tourism than the cost of carrying passengers in a bomber aeroplane would have to commercial air travel. Hence the only relevant data are those relating specifically to dedicated passenger vehicle design studies. Over the past decade or more, a number of such studies have been published based on varying degrees of effort. However, they show consider-able consensus about the cost of developing a fully reusable passenger-carrying launch vehicle capable of repeated flights to and from low Earth orbit, with most estimates clustered around $10 billion.

Designs of single-stage, vertical take-off and landing ( VTOL) rockets include Pacific American Launch Systems' " Phoenix" [22], a passenger-carrying variant of the German " Beta" [23], and the " Kankoh-maru" designed as part of the Japanese Rocket Society's ( JRS) space tourism research program started in 1993 [24]. Designs of two-stage horizontal take-off and landing ( HTOL) vehicles include the "Spacecab", "Spacebus" and precursor vehicles proposed by Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd [25], several designs studied by Penn and Lindley at the Aerospace Corporation [26], and a recent study done at Boeing [27]. Development and operating costs for several configurations are usefully tabulated by Bekey in [14]. The estimated development costs in these studies range from a few billion dollars to about $16 billion.

What is perhaps most striking about these figures is that even the largest is less than one year of G7 space agencies' current spending on non-science activities -- which have little economic value in terms of generating commercial space revenues. Thus such an investment could be funded by using about 5% of space agencies' annual budgets over a decade, which would clearly not be a significant burden to taxpayers. Indeed, if planned government space projects' funding were reduced by 5%, and their timetables extended a little, the vast majority of the general public would not even be aware of the change -- but at the end of the period, space activities would enter a new era with the start of low-cost, reliable access to orbit.

If the actual cost of developing the transportation infrastructure required for passenger space travel was even ten times higher, this would be only of the same order of magnitude as the international space station ( ISS), which has little measurable economic value (particularly since its future depends on an unreliable transportation system). Consequently developing a passenger vehicle would be greatly preferable. How best to achieve the desired result organisationally is a different issue discussed further below. The estimated time-table to reach initial passenger service is about 10 years, if the resources were provided without interruptions. In that case the transportation infrastructure in 2030 might look like Figure 3. First published in 1999 [28], this scenario has lost 4 years at time of writing, but it could probably still be achieved if sufficient investment was started in the near future. Its value would be some $1 trillion greater than continuing government space activities as they are today, as discussed further in [3].

The range of on-orbit infrastructure would be determined primarily by the requirements of daily life of members of the general public living in a zero-gravity environment [29]. This would have great economic value through the flowering of new business opportunities in every sector of economic activity, in contrast to the minimal effect of traditional space agency activities.

Hence Figure 3 can be seen as a step on the way towards the $1 trillion/year scale of activity which might be expected from the scale of public investment made to date. In the present depressed state of the world economy, including particularly the aerospace industry, such activity is economically very desirable. Furthermore, it is the only way of achieving commensurate economic benefit for taxpayers from the public investment in developing space capabilities to date.

Figure 3: Transportation infrastructure required for space tourism (from [28])

How much progress we will actually make towards the future illustrated in Figure 3 depends of course on how much is invested in achieving passenger space travel, how soon it is invested, and how effectively it is invested. This particularly includes achieving efficient, complementary roles for both government organisations and private companies.

Unfortunately it is currently unclear how much space agencies are capable of contributing to this very desirable outcome, due to their inappropriate organisational structures. This problem can be seen from the orders of magnitude difference in cost between G7 space agencies' procedures, and what can be taken as a proxy for commercial "best practice" today.

This was put into sharp focus recently when it was stated that the Russian company NPO-Energia builds Soyuz crew vehicles for $12 million, Progress cargo craft for a little more than $6 million, and Soyuz launch vehicles for about $16 million [30]. By contrast, Nasa estimates the cost of developing a 4-to-6-person "orbital space plane" (OSP) to be launched on an existing expendable rocket by 2010 at $13 billion or more [31]. Even after allowing for the fact that the OSP is intended to be reusable, and ignoring the higher cost of U.S. expendable rockets, it is clear that its cost/flight would not approach that of Soyuz in even 1,000 flights. When the difference in reliability between the two systems Soyuz having made nearly 2,000 flights, including hundreds of successful manned flights are taken into account, it is clear that Nasa's technical capabilities are of little economic value. Indeed, at the time of writing, the latest news is that Nasas proposed Orbital Space Plane may actually be a non-reusable capsule, which closes the circle: Nasa is now proposing to use $13 billion of taxpayers money to redevelop an Apollo capsule 40 years after the original [32].

Some people might conclude, puzzled, that the US space industry cannot compete with 50 year old Russian technology! But this is not so. Even despite the Soyuz's advantages of having low labour costs and development costs written off long ago, if given a free hand US companies can get at least close to the same costs, as can be seen from a single example. HMX Inc proposed its reusable XV cargo carrier in 2000 for Nasas Alternate Access to Space program ( AAS) [33]. Total program costs for four XV launches carrying 300 lb payloads were estimated at $145 million. If produced, the first flight would have been in 2003; this would have been invaluable after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, and would save US taxpayers billions of dollars. However, the AAS program was imposed on Nasa by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congress in an attempt to get value for money for U.S. taxpayers; consequently, out of $62.7 million that Congress provided for the AAS program in 2003, Nasa brazenly redirected $40 million to its favoured OSP program, and announced that AAS will not continue in 2004 [34]!

Why is AAS resisted by Nasa in favour of OSP? The answer is plainly because it is not in the short-term economic interest of Nasa and its client companies to permit such a simple low-cost solution to their requirements. Unfortunately, as Niskanen also explains, nor would it be in the short-term interest of the politicians who nominally "oversee" Nasa and its budget. One might paraphrase Winston Churchills famous description of Russia as ..a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma by saying that G7 space agency cost estimates are a scandal wrapped in a sham inside a farce.

In truth, Nasa's own cost estimates in this case are economically meaningless. Quite apart from being undependable and prone to balloon, they refer to the development of a service for which there is no demand except from Nasa itself, devised in a "sui generis" manner and hence under no pressure to be an economically competitive or "best-practice" result, and following no agreed standard so that the resulting service cannot be judged. An aviation expert involved in the JRS space tourism study programme accurately described the difference between civil aviation and space industry practice in vehicle development by saying that the latter are like children making model aeroplanes: they make up rules as they go along, deciding what is acceptable (to themselves) on an "ad hoc" basis rather than following agreed rules derived from accumulated experience, and designed to achieve a target level of performance [35].

That is, after more than 40 years, governments' role in space activities is still at the same stage as the early days of aviation when government aircraft development projects suffered repeated disasters from which the fundamental lesson was learned that the three roles of customer, manufacturer and safety regulator must be performed by independent organisations. If they are not, the conflicts of interest that arise between political and commercial objectives ensure failure. This is well illustrated in the book " Slide Rule", which describes the simultaneous development of the successful, company-developed R100 and the disastrous, government-developed R101 airship projects [36]. As a result of experience, governments (reluctantly) corrected their role in aviation from (disastrously) developing aircraft directly, to (successfully) supporting the development of commercial aviation [37]. U.S. government actions such as the 1925 Airmail Act privatising the air mail, and the 1926 Air Commerce Act giving the Department of Commerce responsibility to promote aviation, were in much the same vein.

In order to make progress in this situation, the single most important step for the space industry is to collaborate with the civil aviation industry, as discussed in [38]. As Antunano has described, the "aviation approach", its fundamental way of thinking, is the opposite of space agencies: the objective of aviation authorities is to enable as many people as possible to enjoy the services they wish. Consequently instead of government defining rules for selecting candidates for space flight, passengers select themselves, and it is necessary only to advise them of possible risks [39].

However, space agencies currently have no plans to even study the feasibility of passenger travel services, let alone initiate the fundamental rethinking needed to generate economic value for taxpayers in this way from their massive investment in space technology development. The huge cost to taxpayers' of permitting the present economically wasteful situation to continue, that is the cost of governments' continuing failure to amend their mistaken approach to space development contrary to what they did successfully in aviation is discussed next.


As described in Section 3.1 above, the development of passenger space travel services is economically very desirable. As a corollary, delaying this development represents a very large economic cost to taxpayers, which can be considered as comprising four components, namely the direct cost of $1 trillion to date plus $20 billion/year spent on non-science space activities with little economic value, and the economic, social and macro-economic costs of the lost potential value of new economic activities, as discussed further in [40]. In the following we consider the economic cost of not benefiting from the commercial space activities that could have been generated.

In addition to space agencies' investment of $1 trillion over recent decades, G7 governments have spent some $2 trillion on nuclear power and ten times this on economically unproductive military activities. Using these funds for political purposes instead of for taxpayers' economic benefit hinders the innovation which is vital for the continuation of economic growth. These three fields also employ a very significant fraction of all engineers; employing these highly skilled people in economically unprofitable work greatly reduces the economic value of technological progress -- to the point that it becomes a threat to the stability of the economic system.

Each individual decision to use taxpayers' money for purposes other than to create wealth by developing services for which there is potential demand, is made in the belief that there will always be another year's budget from the "golden goose" of government. Collectively, however, these economically damaging decisions have nearly killed the golden goose, by gradually choking off the possibilities for growth. These cumulative wasteful actions have contributed greatly to the present situation of spiralling government debts, collapsing corporate profits, and ever-rising unemployment -- in the USA as well as in Japan, and elsewhere. Indeed, this cost has now reached such a scale that it is causing serious dislocation of not only the US economy but the world economy as a whole, which is in serious distress due to excess capacity in many older industries and lack of new industries, leading to the highest level of unemployment for decades in almost every country today [3]. G7 space agencies have contributed their share to this problem, by adding to taxpayers' debt burden by $20 billion/year while refusing, year after year after year, even to study the possibility of developing a new service that the public are known to want to buy. The potential being wasted in this way is illustrated in the following fictional analogy:

"After the invention of the camera, government established the National Camera Science & Applications Administration (NACSAA) which grew rapidly to employ many thousands of researchers developing camera technology. Highly trained "cameranauts" used the resulting government cameras, which cost many millions each, to take photographs of specially chosen subjects "for the benefit of the people". NACSAA prepared voluminous educational materials describing NACSAA's history and activities, and urged members of the general public to take more interest in camera technology. The possibility of developing cheaper cameras as consumer products was said by the leaders of NACSAA and the "camera industry" to require decades more government-funded technology development. Surveys showing a widespread wish among ordinary people to use cameras and own photographs themselves were publicly criticised as "unpatriotic", and said to show lack of respect for NACSAA history and for NACSAA's "cameranaut heroes". However, in response, NACSAA started a Photographic Commercialisation Initiative (PCI) which provided a range of new services to the public, including discount sales of government photographs, rental of government cameras to selected members of the public who underwent training at NACSAA in "non-cameranautic photography", and a traveling exhibition to widen access to NACSAA photographs and NACSAA history....."

It is clear that, in such a hypothetical situation, the existence of NACSAA and its political and economic interest group would have created enormous resistance to the development of a genuinely commercial, consumer-oriented camera and photographic industry. This would have imposed a very large economic cost on the public due to not having the benefits of the innovations that have in reality arisen in the absence of NACSAA's repressive influence.

In order to appreciate the scale of this "invisible cost", we need only consider the century-long, true "gale of creative destruction" that has in fact been brought about successively by the invention, development and commercialisation of cinematography, colour photography, instant photography, photo-copiers, fax systems, television, video, high-speed photography, Schlieren photography, X-ray photography, holography, IMAX, cineplexes, laser discs, laser printing, disposable cameras, video-conferencing, digital cameras, digital film standards, Internet graphic protocols, computer graphics, data compression algorithms, DVDs, colour faxes, mobile-phone cameras, video e-mail, and many other actual developments in imaging technology, many of which have already gone through several generations of technology.

All of this astounding creativity, which has had enormous economic value and created millions of well-paid jobs, is driven by demand from the general public, from the "mere consumers" whom NACSAA -- and government space agencies -- spurn. The growth of passenger space travel, which is finally being grudgingly recognised as the only activity which can energise the stagnating space industry, through the power of consumer demand, can surely be expected to generate at least as great a profusion of innovative and profitable new activities as photography. That is, Figure 3 barely scratches the surface of what will be done by private citizens once they have access to space.

It is important to recognise also that the cost of not benefiting from innovation would have been invisible to those living in the world of NACSAA, and the existence of such a cost would have been vociferously denied by the leaders and political supporters of NACSAA, who would have been eloquent in their praise of its wealth of accumulated experience, the excellence of its staff, the importance of its historic achievement, and so on.

Like the hypothetical NACSAA, G7 space agencies' use of US$1 trillion over 45 years -- without having improved on the access to space provided by the Soyuz launch vehicle -- represents an extreme misallocation of taxpayers' money. The fact that, during the first four decades of their history, the agencies never even investigated whether the taxpayers for whom they supposedly work would like to visit space, further illustrates how far space agencies are from being "servants of the people": They do not even want to know what the public wants -- precisely as Niskanen describes [2].

In the Wright brothers' centenary year it is time to face the fact that, as presently constituted, government space agencies are not only not capable of developing space economically, they are actively preventing it from happening. They do this by spending hugely on activities that have minimal economic value, while confusing the public about what is worth doing in space, and obscuring the truth about the enormous economic potential of developing passenger space travel [3]. Unlike government expenditure on nuclear power and military activities, the development of space technology has created capabilities which have the potential to contribute greatly to economic growth by supplying a wealth of popular new consumer services. It is therefore economically very desirable to redirect government space activities so as to achieve greater economic benefit from the technological capabilities developed to date by supplying passenger space travel services.


Once the need to change the present situation is acknowledged, we must face the question how to realise the productive and profitable institutional and political reform that is required, which is discussed elsewhere, including in [3, 18]. Fundamentally it is necessary to follow the Wright brothers' lead, and provide services which the public want to buy. In order to do this economic policy-makers must be made aware of the enormous cost of the present disfunctionality of government space funding; the value of the goal of passenger space travel must be recognised officially; the public must be educated about its feasibility (undoing space agencies' cumulative influence in spreading the false idea that only statistically unusual people can survive the "rigours of space flight"); and detailed collaboration must be established with aviation organisations, of which the spontaneous inclination is to develop popular passenger services. This collaboration must be carried out in such a way as to aid the private sector, as air-mail contracts did in the early days of flight. The development of sub-orbital passenger vehicles and related services should also be encouraged.

However, these changes will not be easy to achieve, due to the continuing influence of those with vested interests in preserving the status quo. Unfortun-ately, as Public Choice economics explains, governments are very slow to change, and frequently do so only in the face of crisis. We must hope that the government of a country with the required capabilities will take the initiative before the condition of the world economy deteriorates much further; the benefits of doing so are potentially very large.

At a time when over-production in older industries and lack of new ones is reaching crisis level, it is alarming that there is a faction within government arguing that this situation is unavoidable; that war is a means of "economic stimulus" (as well as social control); and that rich countries should take control of the world's "dwindling resources" to maintain their living standards far above the average. Such narrow-minded blindness is tragically mistaken; in truth the future is a cornucopia -- there is almost no limit to the potential availability to humans of any known resource. The false belief in a "closed world" rests ultimately on meaningless cost estimates made by G7 space agencies. We can be sure that the Wright brothers would not have been taken in for a moment.

Among other components of the present unusually severe recession, civil aviation is suffering down-sizing, bankruptcies and overall shrinkage within the richer countries. The failure of space to contribute to the economy in any way commensurately to the massive public investment which it has received is because it has systematically put short-term political and corporate interests ahead of the wishes of the general public. The result is sadly predictable: unlike aviation, the space industry supplies almost no services that the public want to buy.

In order to achieve the limitless possibilities for peaceful, plentiful growth that can only be realised through passenger space travel opening space to economic development, the public must learn the hard lesson of the Wright brothers' own harsh experience at the hands of government -- and design institutions and rules that ensure that governments' investment in space benefits the general public. Above all, this requires that the goal of space investment is changed to follow aviation's lead and ensure successful development of commercial passenger travel services.

The contrast between the histories of aviation and space is key: space must learn from aviation that the only road to real growth is to supply services that the public want to buy. This must be recognised as the most valuable goal of space development. It is so simple and obvious that the only possible resistance is from those with vested interests in preserving existing arrangements. Space agencies' continuing silence on the matter testifies to their recognition that they cannot justify their long-standing negative stance in open debate; they're "hunkered down", hoping the golden goose will continue to lay.

In recent years the most economically important new products have been personal computers and mobile telephones (together with the internet protocols which link them all together), of which sales revenues have reached hundreds of $ billions/year. Both the world-wide boom in sales and the still-continuing rapid technological improvements seen in these two industries were unpredicted, indeed seemed almost unthinkable, even just a few years before they began. Both arose and continue because they provide products and services that most of the general public wish to buy.

There can be little doubt that the development of passenger space travel has the potential to create an economic boom that will grow far larger than either of these two, and continue far longer. This is because these new services are not only known to be extremely popular among the general population -- giving the potential to emulate the "Lindbergh Boom" in aviation -- but they also involve opening access to new territory, which has itself been the stimulus for major booms in history. This probability is a further reason why governments mired in a global recession should urgently study the possibility in depth.

It was the Wright brothers' vision and achievement to give the human race access to the sky, thereby fulfilling millenia of dreams. The true continuation of their vision is unquestionably to give humans access beyond the sky, which is collectively our ultimate dream. It is now clear that this requires reorganising governments' role in space development to follow the hugely successful model of civil aviation that the Wright brothers pioneered, rather than continuing the economically unsuccessful model of government monopoly space agencies.

As described in Section 1, for reasons clearly explained in the field of Public Choice economics, government space agencies are not capable of putting the economic interest of the general public ahead of their own contrary interests [41]. The centenary of the Wright brothers' world-changing first flight, which is also the 42nd anniversary of the first space flight (but only the second anniversary of the first private passenger space flight), is high time for governments to face this, and take urgent steps to ensure the further flowering of the Wright brothers' vision, to the immense benefit of us all.

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P Collins, 17 July 2003, "Space Tourism Market Demand and the Transportation Infrastructure", Invited speech to the AIAA/ICAS Symposium 'The Next 100 Years' in honour of the Wright Brothers' first flight.
Also downloadable from tourism market demand and the transportation infrastructure.shtml

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