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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.
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P Collins, 2002, "Towards Space Tourism: The Challenge for British Space Policy", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol 55, pp 149-159.
Also downloadable from space tourism the challenge for british space policy.shtml

References and Referring Papers    Printable Version 
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Towards Space Tourism: The Challenge for British Space Policy
During the 1980s the Thatcher administration decided that space activities funded by the British government should be limited to the two areas of scientific research and activities with commercial potential. Among other effects, this policy led to Britain investing in neither Ariane 5 nor the 'international space station'. As a consequence, Britain is unique among 'G7' countries in having no vested interest, neither economic nor political, in either expendable launch vehicles or the ISS - neither of which will ever be profitable in the normal commercial sense. This gives Britain relative freedom to invest in more commercially valuable systems that may compete with these government-funded projects.

In recent years it has become increasingly widely accepted, including within Nasa, that the largest commercial opportunity in space is the development of passenger space travel, or 'space tourism'. However, to date, the British government has provided no support whatever for work in this field. In 2000 the parliamentary Trade and Industry Select Committee criticised this unsatisfactory situation, but their comments have been disregarded to date. This paper reviews the current situation and discusses measures that must be implemented in order for British taxpayers to obtain the greatest economic benefit from the government's space expenditure.


It is not widely appreciated how generally accepted it now is that passenger space travel is likely to become the most important commercial activity in space. The ongoing Space Tourism Study Program of the Japanese Rocket Society ( JRS) which started in 1993 [1, 2]; market research that has revealed the extraordinary popularity of space tourism [3]; the very positive 1998 report 'General Public Space Travel and Tourism' published by Nasa [4]; the report of a 1998 international workshop published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics ( AIAA) that concluded: "In light of its great potential, public space travel should be viewed as the next large, new area of commercial space activity" [5]; and publications by such experts as Ivan Bekey [6]; Norman Augustine [7]; Buzz Aldrin [8] (who also persuaded Arthur C. Clarke to agree that space tourism will be "..the next big leisure activity of our species" [9]); and most recently Dennis Tito, who gained world-wide interest and popular support as the first person to fly to orbit as a paying customer [10] - all of these agree that passenger space travel is now a realistic and desirable objective for the space industry: almost anyone who would fly on an airliner will be able to travel to space; sub-orbital space travel is feasible using already existing technology; and orbital travel and accommodation is likely to become the largest commercial activity in space. By growing to a large scale, space tourism will also reduce the cost of space transportation sufficiently to enable the economic exploitation of space that is impossible today due to the excessively high costs.

Most of these reports are available in the on-line library at Among many other documents on different aspects of space tourism, there is also a scenario published by the author of how large the space tourism industry could realistically grow by 2030, shown in Figure 1. If even a small fraction of current government space spending was used to stimulate commercial investment in this field, this highly attractive scenario could readily be achieved [11]. A figure of 5 million passengers/year in 2030 (NB currently 4 million people/day take an airline flight) would imply that the cumulative number of passengers by that date would be some 40 million people - or perhaps 2% of the middle class population of the time. Yet in market research, not only do most people say that they would like to travel to space, but a large proportion, particularly of younger people, wish to do so several times. And in view of the estimated fall in costs, as well as the development of progressively more entertaining facilities in orbit, this seems probable. Thus a traffic level of 5 million passengers/year by 2030 will be far from satisfying the known demand.

Figure 1: Feasible target for space tourism development [11, 12]

It need hardly be added that the development of this major new direction for consumer-led economic growth is highly desirable, particularly at a time when most regions of the world are falling into recession simultaneously, largely as a result of insufficient investment in the more advanced countries to create new industries [12].

The main reason why the feasibility of such an attractive prospect is not more widely known is because government space agencies have been set up in such a way that they have an economic interest in delaying it, and the reporting of space activities in the media is dominated by space agencies' official statements. This seemingly intractable situation is unfortunately what is to be expected if one makes the assumption that staff in government organisations, like staff in non-government organisations, are motivated to act in their own economic interest, as described and analysed in the pioneering work of the 1986 winner of the economics Nobel prize James Buchanan [13]. This matter is discussed further in the Appendix.

This very unsatisfactory situation was seen clearly in the recent efforts by the Nasa administrator to prevent Dennis Tito's flight which was supported by 80% of the US public. Despite their responsibility for commercialisation of space activities, out of annual budgets of more than £14 billion/year space agencies spend essentially nothing on helping to make space accessible to the general public. The Nasa administrator has implemented none of the recommendations of Nasa's own report [3], and though it is the most economically valuable report that Nasa has ever published he kept it hidden from the general public for 3 1/2 years. (It was finally made accessible through Nasa's internet web-site as a result of Nasa's being required to respond to Dennis Tito's successful commercial space flight - shortly after which administrator Goldin announced his resignation). Interestingly, one of the ways in which this unpromising situation may be remedied arises from the fact that Britain's space policy is different from that of all other G7 countries.


From the economic point of view, since the early 1980s Britain has had the best policy towards government investment in space, at least on paper, since it is restricted to providing public funding for the two areas of scientific research and activities with commercial potential. This policy has given Britain a potentially very valuable advantage by having - uniquely among the G7 countries - no vested interest in preserving the costly and massively loss-making projects which absorb most of other G7 countries' government space budgets. HMG does not have to go through the same contortions as these projects' supporters as they try to justify the enormous costs of continuing them - notably the continuing public cost of the supposedly commercial Ariane satellite launcher, and the ever- ballooning cost of the ever-shrinking 'international space station' ( ISS). As a result of the most recently revealed mismanagement of ISS there are no longer even accommodation facilities for the crew, despite a further $5 billion cost increase. Nasa administrator Goldin's excuses for this are that Nasa (which placed 4th on the US Senate's 2001 list of government mismanagement) has inadequate computer-assisted design and analysis tools [14], and that it is unfair to criticise the project because some classified projects have run 500% over budget [15]. As a measure of the extraordinarily poor economic value of the $50 billion ISS project, it is notable that, for just $100 million/year (that is, about 1/3 of Britain's space budget) the Mir space station could have been kept operating in orbit!

In truth, these projects are millstones round the other leading countries' necks, whose taxpayers must keep on paying, or face the 'humiliation' of scrapping them. So it should be a source of national pride to the British to have avoided these economic black holes. Unfortunately, Britain is having problems implementing its space policy as written. Based on the above policy, the British National Space Centre (BNSC) has been investing some £100 million/year on Earth observation work which it considered to have commercial potential. However, it has recently been pointed out that this investment is far from being a success.


On July 4, 2000, the parliamentary Trade and Industry Committee published its Tenth Report, which included a number of recommendations concerning British space policy [16]. Along with detailed comments on space science and defence projects the committee noted that the BNSC spends half of its budget on Earth observation (or 'remote sensing') activities, but that these are still far from being commercial. It concluded: "UK space policy appears to have failed to date in this central objective. Despite more than a decade trying to stimulate commercial markets for Earth observation data, provided at public expense?" The Committee also noted that the decision to concentrate hundreds of millions of pounds of investment on this field was based on no more than " expression of general but unsubstantiated hope that commercial markets will be generated".

The Select Committee also investigated the fact that the BNSC has made no investment whatever in assessing the commercial potential of passenger space travel (despite the extensive evidence described above that it is the most commercially promising use of space). The Committee elicited further that the BNSC had prevented the private company Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd from receiving any support from HMG for its work in this area for nearly a decade, but that this decision was made without the BNSC having performed any analysis to determine whether passenger space travel could be commercially profitable, or whether Bristol Spaceplanes' plans were realistic. On the contrary, Bristol Spaceplanes' work has been highly praised - including heading the list of references in [4]. The Committee also interviewed the Minister responsible for space and elicited from him that it is not British government policy not to invest in launch vehicles, as the BNSC has stated in declining funding for Bristol Spaceplanes. That is, not to invest in any launch vehicle projects was in fact the BNSC's own decision, though it was based on no significant analysis.

On the basis of these and other findings the Trade and Industry Committee recommended that "...a review is undertaken of the UK's participation in launcher development programmes...", and that "Since no partner in BNSC is likely to be fighting for UK involvement in reusable launch vehicles (RLVs) we also recommend that this evaluation be undertaken by a body independent of BNSC". In addition, the Committee specifically referred to the potential of space tourism, which was referred to favourably in 5 separate Memoranda to the committee [17, 18, 19, 20, 21], and quoted: "Space Future Consulting are of the opinion that the government should not participate in any launch vehicle work that is not specifically aimed at developing a passenger-carrying vehicle, stating that the UK's lack of involvement in ELVs leaves the UK uniquely placed to exploit space tourism". This was the first time that it had been proposed to change any country's space policy on this issue at such a high political level.


On October 27, the British government published its reply to the Select Committee's report [22]. Unfortunately, written by the BNSC, this showed once again the strong resistance of government space agencies to long-overdue innovation in their thinking in relation to the subject of passenger space travel. The BNSC did not mention space tourism at all in its reply, although it was the major economic issue raised by the Committee, since the commercial potential of passenger space travel is now the central economic issue for space development.

More particularly, instead of an inquiry independent of the BNSC recommended by the Select Committee, the BNSC stated that it will itself "...reassess the combined effects of development costs and timescales, revenue streams, market entry conditions and windows of financial return in the current and medium term launcher market." This study was performed by the Launcher Sub-Committee of the UK Industrial Space Committee (UKISC), funded by the BNSC; the results have yet to be published, but it did not consider the feasibility of passenger space travel at all.

This apparent attempt to cling to the same path as other countries' space agencies is wasting Britain's extraordinary opportunity in this field. As seen above, following its stated objective of aiming at commercially profitable activities in space, the British government's space policy should unquestionably include funding for research in this area at the very least to assess its commercial potential.

An important indication that the BNSC's behaviour in this connection is anomalous is the fact that it spends nothing in this area - not very little, but zero. If the BNSC was acting sincerely it would certainly spend something to find out more about an activity of which the promise is so widely accepted. The fact that the BNSC spends nothing is a clear sign that, like other government space agencies, they have made up their minds that they do not want to know any more about the subject, and nor do they want the general public to know any more about it.

Among other factors, the senior staff of the BNSC understand that if, they study the subject, then unless they are to explain why Nasa, the AIAA, the JRS and many other authoritative figures are all wrong in their analysis of the potential of passenger space travel, they will have to conclude that the BNSC has been wrong not to make any investment in research aimed at realising passenger space travel, and more specifically in repeatedly preventing Bristol Spaceplanes from receiving even the smallest amount of British government support over the past decade [17]. This could help explain the BNSC's continuing 'pathological' reluctance even to refer to the issue of space tourism, despite being pressed on the matter by the Select Committee.

There are however many additional reasons why the BNSC and other space agencies are so antipathetic to passenger space travel, refusing even to discuss the subject. Although these reasons are unfamiliar to many people they are of the greatest importance in understanding the stagnation in the world space industry today, and so they are discussed in the Appendix below. Against these motivations it is unfortunately the case that the wish to do what is in the economic interests of taxpayers has little influence on the heads of government space agencies. The various forms of democracy are widely (though not universally) accepted as the best available system of government, but all forms of democracy have serious weaknesses. In particular, bringing about change in long-established government arrangements is notoriously difficult. Furthermore, even when sufficient public support builds up to finally bring about change it is not uncommon for a new policy to aggravate rather than improve the previous situation. It is therefore of some interest that a proposal has recently been made that would make the BNSC even less likely to take a significantly different path from other G7 space agencies towards space tourism.


A more recent report on the British space industry than the Trade and Industry Committee's 2000 report, was commissioned by the DTI from an independent consulting company (with advice from several senior figures from government space agencies), and published in July 2001 [23]. Readers of this report could be forgiven for considering it to be definitive, being a 400-page review of the past 25 years of British government space funding - which adds up to several billion pounds - including comparisons of different countries and programmes.

Unfortunately the economic analysis in the report is very limited, due partly to the fact that much of the data required to perform a cost benefit analysis does not exist. However, as is often the case in reports concerning the space industry, the bare economic facts, which are well known, are not stated clearly. Prima facie, the return on investment in space activities to date has been extremely poor, in Britain as elsewhere. For an investment of several £billions there should be a commercial space industry with annual turnover of several £billions. However, apart from government spending, commercial space activity amounts to barely 1/10 of that. If the report had stated this clearly it might have recommended a more energetic search for more commercially valuable applications of space technology.

As it is, the report recommends exploring "..ways in which to improve exploitation of space investments" and: "A strategic review of the commercial opportunities for civil space activity should examine the case for a more balanced portfolio of complementary space investments within the UK budget to avoid reliance on a single technological focus. This should be used to inform the next BNSC review of UK space policy." However, the report does not go beyond the existing thinking of government space agencies today, and it recommends:

" exhaustive exercise leading to a comprehensive and actionable Implementation Plan, working systematically from the high level goals through objectives and on to a budgeted-action plan spanning the next 5 years. It ought to be accompanied by a forward look in terms of strategies and commitments that has a 10-year and 25-year scenario. The BNSC should look to international practice - such as the Nasa Strategic Enterprise Plans and roadmaps - for a lead."

Thus, for all the effort that has gone into the report, it is deeply flawed - because it nowhere even refers to the possibility of passenger space travel - the activity that is now widely recognised as being the most commercially promising use of space, as described above. By limiting themselves to space agencies' way of thinking, the authors of the report prevent readers (and perhaps themselves) from even thinking about space tourism: the categories of 'space transportation' (ie satellite launch) and 'manned space flight' (ie government staff riding on vehicles like Soyuz and the 'space shuttle') have little connection with the possibility of passenger space travel.

It should also be noted that, from the economic point of view, recommending that the BNSC should mimic Nasa is a terrible idea - because Nasa has been a disaster for the US economy. Since the end of the cold war alone it has spent $150 billion of taxpayers' money - and created almost no value at all. If invested commercially there would be a $150 billion/year space industry - but there is little US space activity that did not already exist ten years ago. And Nasa has imposed further huge costs by delaying the development of passenger space travel at a time when the lack of new industries in the USA is so severe that it has a record trade deficit of more than $1 billion/day.

The report's recommendation hinges on the question which it asks: "Does the UK want to be strategic in this field?" What this curiously phrased question really means is: "Does HMG want to spend a lot of money to enable Britain to become the dominant country in an activity that has little or no economic value?" To which the correct answer is surely "No". Thus, implementing this recommendation would be a retrograde step, because the BNSC is way ahead of Nasa. Britain was the first country in Europe to restructure its economy, privatising nationalised industries and so on - and the continental European countries have been following Britain in this ever since. Likewise in space: the European Space Agency members have been gradually moving to follow Britain's lead in requiring more cost-effectiveness and a more commercial focus. It is time for HMG to take the next step and force the BNSC to do what is most commercially valuable rather than what the BNSC's staff find easiest to do for institutional reasons (as discussed in the Appendix).

It was as a tactic of the cold war that governments decided to set up monopoly organisations to perform government 'missions' in space - which in practice has evolved into their dominating all space activities. But, except to compete with the Soviet Union, there is absolutely no need for a central government space agency - as there is no need for a government monopoly agency for activities in the air, the sea or the land. Astronomy, micro-gravity science, telecommunications, remote sensing and other activities are all quite different. Britain's system of funding each separately through the PPARC, the NERC, the Met Office and the DETR, with the BNSC playing a role to coordinate these various activities to some extent, is surely an excellent one.

The report is mistaken because of its key assumption - that there is nothing more economically valuable to be done in space than what space agencies are already doing. This is completely mistaken: there is ever-growing evidence that passenger space travel can grow into a popular new consumer service industry of great economic value. Space agencies' unanimous refusal even to investigate this possibility is becoming ever more untenable - and in truth it is already scandalously irresponsible towards the taxpayers who pay for them.

In summary, the 'partnership' structure of the BNSC is fine as it is - except that it is making a very serious mistake in following Nasa, Esa and other national space agencies in their 'conspiracy of silence' to keep the subject of passenger space travel out of discussion. There is therefore one major change that must be made in British space policy: the government must recognise Passenger Space Travel as a new category of activity with potentially great economic value, and must initiate relevant activities to exploit the opportunity that it offers, as indeed Nasa itself recommended in [3].

As it happens, in August 2001 a forthcoming review of the BNSC itself was announced as a further response to the Trade and Industry Committee's 2000 Report. The terms of reference include the statement that "..the study will review the evidence provided to the Trade and Industry Select Committee investigation into space policy.." [24].

The Steering Committee of this review are thereby clearly required to consider the issue of passenger space travel, which was discussed in at least 5 Memoranda provided to the Select Committee [17, 18, 19, 20, 21]. It is also stated that this review " being conducted in parallel to a review of the priorities and structure of the DTI and a review of Business Support, the budget with which DTI space expenditure is currently associated. This review should take account of emerging options within those reviews.." [24].

Furthermore, since the development of space tourism requires collaboration between space and aviation, the policies required to fully exploit this opportunity cannot be implemented solely within the BNSC. It would therefore be very appropriate for this review of the BNSC to consider also the higher level issue of how to make best use of British expertise in both civil aviation and space engineering through appropriate collaboration.

However, since the Steering Committee is headed by a member of the BNSC's own staff, it would not be realistic to expect them to offer significant criticism of the BNSC's behaviour. This kind of conflict of interest is well known to be, at best, a serious hindrance to economically efficient behaviour; at worst it can be a deliberate tactic to delay significant change (as discussed in A10 below). It is clearly of potentially great economic importance that the Steering Committee should recommend ways for HMG to give long-overdue support for British participation in this important new field of commercial space activity.


The word 'aerospace' is a familiar one, which began to be used some years ago due to the existence of some commonality between these two areas of engineering. However in reality, that is as they are carried out today, aviation and space activities have very little contact; they are very different in their objectives and their practices; and few people in the 'space industry' have experience of working in civil aviation. Perhaps most important of all, aviation is largely commercial while space is mostly government-funded. This leads to the two very different cultures of 'the customer is queen' versus 'the government knows best'.

However, in order to realise the economic potential of space, that is in order to develop a passenger space travel industry, collaboration between space and aviation is a 'sine qua non'. Some of the details of this are discussed in [25]; in brief, the aviation industry provides a complete organisational model for passenger space travel. Through almost a century of experience of developing and operating high-technology passenger transportation systems, civil aviation has reached a current scale of 1.5 billion passengers/year, and created a global network of national and international services, standards, qualifications, training and certification systems, finance, insurance, regulations and other matters, all on a commercial basis.

Extending this very effective system to include flights to and from space is a straight-forward evolution. Indeed the FAA is already studying the extension of air traffic control to include low Earth orbits [26]. It has also already established medical guidelines for passengers on sub-orbital flights, and has drafted guidelines for orbital flights. In any case, in order to travel through the atmosphere to get to space, passenger vehicles will have to follow aviation regulations, and so it makes sense to build on existing regulations rather than try to create a new system from scratch. This is recognised also in Japan where, as an offshoot of the JRS study programme, the Japanese Aeronautical Association has recently set up a Space Tourism Study Group.

The British aviation industry has enormous accumulated experience - including both developing and flying rocket-planes, and operating reusable, liquid-fueled rocket engines on passenger aircraft as long ago as the 1950s. Consequently the British government should direct the BNSC and the CAA to establish formal mechanisms for actively collaborating to facilitate progress towards Passenger Space Travel, and funding should be made available for research in related fields.

Since the BNSC's current expenditure of nearly £100 million/year (out of a budget of some £180 million/year) on unprofitable remote sensing activities should be reduced, there is clearly scope for significant support to enable different areas of British industry to profit from the development of Passenger Space Travel services. This has major implications for space development work in Britain. This is because, quite separate from aerospace engineering, British companies have world-class expertise in many service industries that will play significant roles in passenger space travel, as described in a 1999 Memo from the author to the deputy Director- General of the BNSC [27].

Consequently research proposals should be invited over the full range of related fields, in order to support those with an interest in developing commercially valuable expertise in this area. That is, the range of topics for which government funding of space research is available should be broadened in order to realise Passenger Space Travel. Rather than trying to 'pick winners' the government should announce support for and invite research proposals in any related field in which British researchers offer the potential of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. Among other benefits this will help to build up an academic research base that will contribute to achieving the maximum economic benefits for British taxpayers from their cumulative investment in aviation and space technology of many billions of pounds to date, as passenger space travel services grow to the scale described in Figure 1.


In summary, passenger space travel is increasingly widely acknowledged to be the most promising commercial use of space; it apparently has the potential to grow into a major new field of industry, as important as civil aviation; there is no other application of space with even remotely similar potential; and it is known to be hugely popular with the general public - yet it is never even mentioned by government-funded space agencies, including the BNSC, which spend nothing, out of £14 billion/year to aid its development. As a consequence the feasibility and promise of space tourism is hardly ever mentioned in the press, nor the mass media, nor even in museums and displays devoted to space or aerospace.

The key to resolving this anomalous and economically very costly situation is for HMG to implement its own space policy as written: Face the now undeniable fact that Passenger Space Travel offers the greatest promise for commercialisation of space activities - and support British researchers working in this field.

This should be easy: it merely requires the British government to 'stick to its guns' by insisting that, apart from space science, space activities should pay their way. Britain must not waste its hard-won advantage over other G7 countries which are still labouring under the millstone of supporting uneconomic government space technology development projects. In order to do this HMG has to make one innovative step: to initiate formal collaboration between space and civil aviation organisations in order to facilitate the realisation of Passenger Space Travel. This requires overcoming the BNSC's reluctance to accept the central importance of Passenger Space Travel, and directing them to do everything they can to aid the growth of what is expected to become the most economically valuable activity in space.

Those who wish to see space tourism realised, and more particularly to see British companies and researchers play the major and multi-faceted role in its development that they are undoubtedly capable of [27], must somehow bring the above problem to the attention of government. Among others, the press can clearly play a major role in this - and they should find it greatly in their interest to do so due to the great popularity of the idea of space tourism.

Quite apart from the economic value of developing this new field of business activity, the development of space tourism is expected to have wide-ranging social benefits which have been described to some extent elsewhere [11, 12, 28]. Suffice it to say here that it is hard to over-estimate the beneficial cultural influence that will result from opening the space frontier to travel and tourism by large numbers of the general public. By looking to the future in this way rather than continuing to preserve the cold war pattern of the past, HMG will thereby help British industry to give children the exciting, optimistic future for which they are longing.


Of first importance in understanding government space agencies' resistance to passenger space travel is the fact described above that their primary economic interest is to preserve their current government funding of some £14 billion/year. This problem is discussed at length in [13]. However there are also a number of social or 'cultural' factors, in addition to the agencies' purely economic motives, which are briefly discussed here.

A.1 Resistance to Innovation

Innovation is always difficult, and it is well-known that government organisations are particularly resistant to it. In a democracy, unless a significant number of politicians believe that tackling a particular issue will win them votes in elections, they largely leave matters to civil servants. Because civil servants do not work for the profit motive which is so important in forcing businesses to stop failed projects and invest in new ones, civil servants have extreme reluctance to changing policy in any way that might be seen as an admission of error. The problems of government organisations are the subject of extensive research in economics, sociology and other fields. Strong resistance to proposals from outside, sometimes called the 'Not Invented Here' or 'NIH' syndrome is likewise particularly strong in government monopoly organisations.

A.2 "Don't Rock the Boat"

There are social constraints on heads of government space agencies "not to rock the boat". Collectively the G7 space agencies receive some £14 billion/year, and they have built up a strong public image that in developing space technology they are performing work of great importance, but of which most 'ordinary people' are not able to appreciate the value. As discussed in [13] the heads of government space agencies have a strong economic interest in prolonging this situation as long as possible, and they consider the development of space tourism as a threat. One of their main tactics to date is simply to ignore the subject in a 'conspiracy of silence' that keeps it off the agenda, silencing anyone who dares to mention it with mockery.

Since the 1980s the British government has taken a different view of space development than other G7 countries - that, except for science research, which it agrees can have cultural and long-term value that may not be adequately evaluated by commercial accounting methods, government should only fund space activities that have commercial potential. By contrast, although other G7 countries' space agencies also include space commercialisation in their objectives, their major expenditures are to support space technology development projects including expendable launch vehicles, the international space station and a range of related equipment that have neither commensurate scientific value nor commercial promise.

In this situation, at meetings with other space agency heads, it is unlikely that senior staff from the BNSC criticise their colleagues' expenditures on the ISS and other projects with equally little economic value. It seems more likely that they are treated as a 'poor relation' unable to participate in important international projects. Indeed they may well feel some danger of being mocked and/or ostracised if they publicly espouse passenger space travel, which the other agencies consider a threat in exposing the poor economic value of their work. 'Not rocking the boat' and joining the 'conspiracy of silence' about space tourism is clearly an easy option - which would be supported by the potential economic benefit of support from other agencies in trying to get their own budget increased - as for example in the recommendations in [23].

A.3 Shyness about "the T word"

It is very notable that, despite the evidence that passenger space travel is both technically and economically feasible, as well as very popular with the general public, space agency staff and politicians concerned with their funding are extremely reluctant even to discuss the subject of space tourism - to the extent that it has been nicknamed "the T word".

Part of this reluctance is a deliberate tactic by space agencies to ignore the subject in order to try to protect their continued receipt of large-scale government funding. But part of it is said to be 'shyness' concerning an idea that they fear may be ridiculed as 'science fiction' - notwithstanding the fact that in recent years many other possibilities that were also first described in science fiction, including robots, computers, space flight and cloning, have already been realised.

There is also a cultural barrier against considering space tourism within space agencies. Due to their 'cold war' origin, space activities have been dominated by government organisations, and so they have a very 'serious' image. They are largely performed by government employees for political or (secondarily) scientific purposes, and the people in charge have neither contact with, interest in, nor sympathy for 'mere consumer services' - despite the fact that consumers are also the taxpayers who pay for space agencies' activities.

However, from the economic point of view, and in the long run also from the political point of view, the wishes of 'ordinary people' acting as consumers (and voters) are of the highest importance. Consumer expenditure is by far the largest component of economic activity, and the new industries that are so urgently needed to sustain world economic growth will be driven by consumer demand. The known popularity of passenger space travel offers the possibility of putting space activities on a sound economic footing driven by ever-growing popular demand, instead of its current precarious taxpayer-funded situation in which it shows no significant growth. As described in section 1 above, such a change could enable passenger space travel to grow into a major new industry like passenger air travel, thereby contributing greatly to the world economy rather being a burden on it as space agencies are today. No other space activity has even a fraction of this potential, since they do not tap into the consumer economy which drives commercial investment and economic growth.

A.4 'Space industry disease'

Over the decades of their existence, staff at space agencies have developed a narrow viewpoint based on their own history of developing missiles into expendable launch vehicles. They have no contact with consumer-oriented service industries such as civil aviation, and are reluctant to believe that there may be alternatives to the way in which they operate. In particular, it is a common belief that passenger space travel requires a vehicle like Nasa's 'space shuttle'. It is then a simple step to deduce from that vehicle's cost of some $500m /flight for 6 passengers that space travel is 'clearly impossible for ordinary people'.

It is therefore very important to understand that a dedicated passenger space vehicle has no closer connection to Nasa's 'space shuttle' than an airliner has to a fighter-bomber aircraft: both use similar technology, but being optimised for a different task an airliner has enormously lower cost per passenger. Unfortunately, very few people in the space industry have any experience of civil aviation, so they do not understand this, and they have no interest in the collaboration between space and aviation that is essential for the realisation of passenger space travel, as discussed in section 6 above.

There is also a widespread belief among space agency staff that what they do is inherently valuable, and that there is therefore no need to consider such new activities as passenger travel. However, at least from the economic point of view, much of space agencies' activities have little or no economic value. This is perhaps most simply explained by noting that a commercial company that invested £14 billion would thereby generate commercial turnover of £14 billion/year from which the profits would repay perhaps twice the initial investment, as well as creating permanent employment for several hundred thousand people. But, far from creating commercial space activities growing by £14 billion/year, space agencies generate almost no new commercial business activities. In attempting to justify the continuation of their funding, space agency leaders typically argue that space commercialisation is so difficult that it will require several more decades of public investment. But the falsity of this argument is revealed by their refusal even to investigate the feasibility of passenger space travel.

Overall, space agencies show strong resistance to the genuine 'paradigm shift' that is required to give up the idea that central government monopoly space agencies 'know best', and to accept the idea that supplying the general public with the services they want to purchase is economically much more valuable, and is much more important at the present time of unprecedented global unemployment.

A.5 "..the Camel's Nose"

A common concern of those trying to prevent the growth of a new activity is to prevent it developing 'momentum' which could make it harder to stop. A characteristic behaviour in this case is for those responsible for deciding budgets to greatly favour allocating zero funding to the new candidate activity rather than even a tiny amount. It is said that once a camel gets its nose inside a tent, the whole camel will inevitably follow. Even a tiny budget can be used to generate a case for a larger budget - especially when the proposal is a good one and the activity has been starved of funds so that excellent work is waiting to be done by highly motivated staff. In such a situation the argument to continue and increase funding rapidly becomes irresistible.

Space agencies' decade-long refusal to support work on passenger space travel is a typical case. When refusal becomes no longer tenable, the next stage is typically to give "lip service" to the subject - as Nasa has recently started to do in relation to space tourism - while continuing to refuse significant funding. This situation is likely to continue until space agencies are ordered to improve their policy implementation in this field.

A.6 "Just for the Rich"

Government organisations such as space agencies would be criticised if they were considered to be using taxpayers' funds to develop services that would be available only to the rich. If the public relations concerning space agencies' work aimed at developing passenger space transportation were handled poorly, it would surely be possible to create this impression - indeed, it is a tactic used by space agencies and other groups to try to create opposition to the idea of space tourism.

However, it is important to note that, of the 3 people with neither aerospace nor political connections who have visited space to date aboard Russian "Soyuz" launch vehicles, at a price of $10-20 million, neither journalist Akiyama Toyohiro nor contest winner Helen Sharman were richer than average middle-class people. Moreover, the majority of the 10 people said to be booked to fly on Soyuz in the next few years are due to be selected via television programmes.

In the early days of passenger air travel, the majority of those who flew were much richer than average tax-payers, but this was not considered a valid reason for governments not to invest in helping the development of a healthy commercial aviation industry. The phrase "jet set" referred to those rich enough to fly in early jetliners, but this did not deter governments from helping the advance of jet engine technology.

It should be noted however, that after a number of early disasters, governments stopped any efforts to actually develop aircraft and operate them. The reasons why these activities are much better performed by private companies are explained particularly clearly by the British engineer-novelist, Nevil Shute, in his description of the "R 101" airship disaster [29]. A similar division of roles between government and private sector will be appropriate for the development of passenger space travel.

A.7 Excessive Expectations

The activities of government space agencies receive relatively little media attention much of the time. However, they receive considerable press attention when they are seen to have failed at something - by suffering an accident, failing to meet a stated target, or over-running a budget - when they typically receive considerable criticism. Space agencies have thus learned through the decades of their existence to be extremely risk-averse and conservative, to the extent of repeating activities they have done many times before - for which they are not criticised but ignored - rather than take the risk of failure by innovating. They have learned also not to raise expectations among the general public, media, politicians or others by making promises which they may not be able to fulfill. As a consequence they continually stress the difficulties of space activities, to the extent of even claiming that apparent failures are in fact successes. (Anecdotally, this tendency has grown to such an extent that it has been named, in parody, Nasa's "Cannot Do" culture.)

Because the idea of space tourism is extremely popular with the public, space agencies fear that if they were to announce that they were starting to work towards it they would excite popular expectations. Having resisted even mentioning the subject for as long as possible, Nasa has recently included an exhibit of a small tourism module in its traveling exhibition 'Starship 2040'. Since commercial space tourism has already started in Russia in 2001, where a dedicated tourism 'Mini-station' is being developed commercially at a total cost of $100 million, this is a good example of understatement/disinformation. For 'calibration' as to how straightforward such a project is, $100 is a little more than Nasa's expenditure every 2 days.

A.8 "Delay is Victory"

For the staff of any organisation resisting change, delaying any activity that might facilitate change is itself a "victory" - because it enables the organization's staff to continue enjoying the organisation's budget. In the case of the G7 countries' space agencies, each year's delay is worth some $20 billion to the agencies' staff and their client companies, many of whom are working on projects that will not continue when the agencies are finally required to carry out their duty to achieve economic benefit for taxpayers.

Delay can also enable those responsible for a failed policy to retire without having to formally change their policy or admit error. An interesting case in point is the October announcement by Nasa administrator Goldin of his retirement, shortly after publication of a draft of the Bush administration's more commercial approach to space policy which specifically embraces space tourism - which Goldin resisted strenuously for a decade, at great cost to US taxpayers.

The numerous delaying tactics used in government (and other) organisations are well-known - setting up review committees, changing the people responsible for certain work, 'losing' documents, and so on. Nasa's proposal of 2040 for the start of orbital tourism in its supposedly "educational" traveling exhibition referred to above is a good example of such delaying tactics.

A.9 "There's no precedent, so it can't be done"

The argument: "There is no precedent for [a certain action], so it cannot be taken" is often used by government officials, for whom it is acceptable logic. However, economic growth depends on innovation - that is specifically on taking unprecedented actions. Hence if government bureaucrats' logic was followed widely, there would be no economic growth.

There are fields of activity in which following established procedures is of particular importance. However, the economic development of space, for which there are understandably high expectations due to the unlimited economic resources in space and the rather low level of technology required to access them, is an activity which is not appropriate for leadership by government bureaucrats working in organisations which have a strong economic interest in avoiding the risks inherent in innovation. The present monopoly structure of government space agencies is guaranteed to ensure continuing stagnation, and waste of large quantities of taxpayers' funds on activities with little economic value.

A.10 The BNSC's 'anti-launcher' mind-set

Although the BNSC has long been criticised by space enthusiasts who would have liked Britain to play a larger role in launch vehicle development projects, from the economic point of view this has been a good policy, since it has saved British taxpayers from huge costs they would have suffered if HMG had funded participation in Ariane, the 'space shuttle', the international space station, or various other G7 space agency projects. However, this policy has become so rigid that it has blinded the BNSC to the entirely different nature of projects aimed at developing passenger space travel.

The key reason why all launch vehicles, other than those whose development costs have been written off (and even many of those), are loss-making is because the market to launch satellites is very small (less than $3 billion/year turnover for launch vehicle manufacturers in 2000) and has poor growth prospects. But developing a piloted reusable space vehicle to carry passengers to and from space faces a potential market hundreds of times larger. The BNSC's willful 'blindness' to this crucial difference, which has led them to deliberately prevent any HMG funding of Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd over the past decade, has "thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Yet, as described in the Trade and Industry Committee's tenth Report [16], the reason given, namely that it is "..against government policy", was denied by the Minister responsible. The BNSC's refusal to even consider Passenger Space Travel is therefore indefensible, and should be corrected as soon as possible.

A.11 "Never another Concorde".

One of the long-running conflicts within Whitehall is that over the funding of aerospace development projects, which have generally had a poor economic result - 'Concorde' being the extreme example. Likewise, military development projects have a bad record of cost escalation beyond estimates. As a consequence there is said to be a tacit understanding to ensure there is "...never another Concorde". It is likely that this thought too is behind the BNSC's refusal to even use 'the T word'.

Thus, it is useful to recognise that the development of passenger space travel is completely different from the development of Concorde for several reasons:

  1. Market research. The key problem for the Concorde project was the low demand for the aircraft. Yet this was predicted - because decades of market research has shown consistently that most people do not want to pay higher prices for tickets to travel in faster aircraft; they prefer cheaper tickets on subsonic flights. This was known when Concorde was being developed; it was ignored by those responsible for funding it; and it was confirmed in reality by the failure of Concorde to generate demand for more than a few aircraft.

    In sharp contrast, market research on passenger space travel shows consistently that a large proportion of the population are extremely interested in taking a trip to space, and would be prepared to pay very high prices to do so [3]. This is not entirely surprising since it is a unique experience, not just a faster flight than usual. While there is always uncertainty about market research concerning future possibilities, a priori there is no justification for accepting it in one case and rejecting it in the other.

    Out of the £14 billion/year of taxpayers' funds that they use, space agencies have to date refused to provide more than a few £thousands in total for market research! Yet the provision of very modest funds for detailed market research on this subject would be very valuable. Thus, as an example of path-breaking research that the BNSC could sponsor in this field, for well less than £1 million (that is, a small fraction of 1% of 1 year's budget), the BNSC could sponsor the first, comprehensive global market survey, the results of which would be likely to become famous world-wide, and even have a place in history.

  2. Whereas Concorde faced fierce competition from multiple, long-established, popular, commercially profitable services provided by large numbers of subsonic airliners which are continually improving their services, there is no direct competition for a provider of space travel services - at least not yet. This makes the initial investment in this unique new service much less risky.

  3. By comparison with the development of Concorde, which required the development of new engines as well as major developments in airframe design, since no airliner had ever been designed to cruise at such speeds, little new technology is required to develop vehicles capable of providing passenger space travel services. This is perhaps surprising to many people who imagine that a vehicle far more 'advanced' than Nasa's 'space shuttle' is required, but flights to and from orbit have been under way for more than 40 years. Furthermore, no new technology is needed in the case of sub-orbital vehicles, prototypes of which were flying more than 40 years ago, and which could be assembled from off-the-shelf components. For passenger vehicles capable of flying to and from orbit, some limited new developments are required, but the main need is to apply aviation experience to space vehicle design and operation, as discussed in section 6 above.

For the reasons discussed above, which are well recognised among economists, organisational theorists and other social scientists, government space agencies as they currently exist are essentially incapable of the innovation required to realise passenger space travel. In order for taxpayers to obtain economic benefits from the enormous investments that have been made in their name by government space agencies, this problem must be recognised - as it was many decades ago in the case of aviation - and appropriate administrative structures implemented as soon as possible.

  1. K Isozaki et al, 1998, "Status Report on Space Tour Vehicle 'Kankoh-maru' of Japanese Rocket Society", Proc. 49th IAF Congress, paper no IAA-98-IAA.1.5.06; also at status_report_on_space_tour_vehicle_kankoh_maru_of_japanese_rocket_society.shtml
  2. P Collins et al, 1999, "Space Tourism in Japan - the Growing Consensus", Proceedings of 2nd ISST, also at tourism_in_Japan_the_growing_consensus.shtml
  3. G Crouch, 2001, "Researching the Space Tourism Market", Annual Conference Proceedings, Travel and Tourism Research Association; also at researching_the_space_tourism_market.shtml
  4. D O'Neil et al, 1998, "General Public Space Travel and Tourism - Volume 1 Executive Summary", NASA/STA, NP-1998-03-11- MSFC; also at general_public_space_travel_and_tourism.shtml
  5. M Gerard and P Jefferson (eds), 1998, " International Cooperation in Space: New Government and Industry Relationships", Report of an AIAA/ CEAS/ CASI workshop, AIAA; also at report_of_working_group_4_of_the_aiaa_ceas_casi_workshop_on_international_cooperation_in_space.shtml
  6. I Bekey, 1998, "Economically Viable Public Space Travel", Proceedings of 49th IAF Congress; also at economically_viable_public_space_travel.shtml
  7. N Augustine, 2000, " The Wright Brothers Meet Adam Smith", Aviation Week & Space Technology, Vol 152, No 1, pp 48-9.
  8. E Aldrin, 2001, "Hearing on Space Tourism: Testimony by Buzz Aldrin", House Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, June 26, also at
  9. D Candappa, 2001, " Money Could Buy Next Giant Leap in Space, Aldrin Says", Reuters, February 25.
  10. D Tito, 2001, " Expanding the Dream of Human Space Flight", Hearing on Space Tourism: Testimony by Dennis Tito, House Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, June 26; also at
  11. P Collins, 2000, "The Space Tourism Industry in 2030", Proceedings of Space 2000, American Society of Civil Engineers, pp 594-603; also at archive/the_space_tourism_industry_in_2030.shtml
  12. P Collins, 1999, "Space Activities, Space Tourism and Economic Growth", Proceedings of 2nd ISST, also at space_activities_space_tourism_and_economic_growth.shtml
  13. P Collins, 2001, " Public Choice Economics and Space Policy: Realising Space Tourism", Acta Astronautica, Vol 48, No. 5-12, pp 921-950; also at public_choice_economics_and_space_policy_realising_space_tourism.shtml
  14. S Magnuson and B Berger, 2001, "Nasa Ranks High on Senate Mismanagement Report", Space News, Vol 12, No 23, p 6.
  15. Anon, 2001, "$500 million short", Aviation Week & Space Technology, Vol 155, No 1, p 29.
  16. House of Commons, 2000, Trade and Industry - Tenth Report,
  17. D Ashford, 2000, Memorandum submitted by Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd, Minutes of Evidence,
  18. T Rogers et al, 2000, Memorandum submitted by the US Space Transportation Association, Appendix 17,
  19. M Hempsell, 2000, Memorandum submitted by Mr Mark Hempsell, Minutes of Evidence,
  20. J Brodie-Good, 2000, Memorandum submitted by Wildwings Worldwide Travel, Appendix 8,
  21. P Collins et al, 2000, Memorandum Submitted by Space Future Consulting, Appendix 12,
  22. Anon, 2000, Government Reply to Trade and Industry Committee Tenth Report, Appendix to Trade and Industry Committee Twelfth Special Report,
  24. Technopolis Group, 2001, " Evaluation of Funding for UK Civil Space Activity", DTI Assessment Paper No 42, (URN 01/1032),
  25. Anon, 2001, UK Space Policy: Review of BNSC,
  26. P Collins and Y Funatsu, 1999, "Collaboration with Aviation: The Key to Commercialisation of Space Activities", IAF Congress paper no IAA-99-IAA.1.3.03; also at collaboration_with_aviation_the_key_to_commercialisation_of_space_activities.shtml
  27. P Smith, 1999, "Concept of Operations for the National Airspace 2005", FAA; also at concept_of_operations_in_the_national_airspace_system_in_2005.shtml
  28. P Collins, 1999, " Potential Benefits of British Investment in Commercial Passenger Space Transportation.", Memorandum to Deputy Director-General of the BNSC, May 1999, Appendix to Trade and Industry Committee Tenth Report,
  29. P Collins, 2001, "The Prospects for Passenger Space Travel", Speech to FAA Commercial Space Transportation Forecasting Conference; also at the_prospects_for_passenger_space_travel.shtml
  30. N Shute, 1954, " Slide Rule", Mandarin, 1990 edition.
P Collins, 2002, "Towards Space Tourism: The Challenge for British Space Policy", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol 55, pp 149-159.
Also downloadable from space tourism the challenge for british space policy.shtml

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