13 May 1999
News - Tourism (Good)
Billionaires Target Space Tourism
Two New Companies Add Reality to Space Future's Vision
by Patrick Collins
Over the past few weeks, two self-made billionaire businessmen have established companies with the stated objective of playing roles in the commercial space tourism industry that is becoming increasingly widely recognised as the true future of space activities.

Virgin Galactic Airways has been established in Britain by Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways and other Virgin Group companies, to provide space tourism services. Staff are currently visiting companies working on reusable launch vehicles - though they're downplaying expectations that they will make any major moves soon. Branson announced more than 2 years ago that one day he hoped to offer space travel services - but only after the race to perform the first round-the-world balloon flight was over. True to his word, he is now moving in that direction, and it will be very interesting to follow the moves he makes in this new field.

Bigelow Aerospace has been established in Las Vegas by Robert Bigelow, the founder and president of Budget Suites of America, a hotel and apartment chain in the southern United States, and a group of related companies. Based on its founder's expertise in building and operating popular low-cost accommodation on Earth, Bigelow Aerospace is planning to "design, develop, assemble and market fully equipped, modular habitats that can be deployed as safe, financially viable space complexes". Thus it is aiming to provide accommodation in space rather than transportation services to carry guests between Earth and space. Bigelow Aerospace is currently hiring staff: advertisements have been placed in Space News, Aviation Week and elsewhere. Like Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace is playing down the idea that it will make any dramatic moves soon.

The Power of Entrepreneurs

The emergence of Richard Branson and Robert Bigelow as business champions in the new field of space tourism fits Space Future's vision exactly. As recognition of the enormous business potential in this area grows, it is becoming attractive to successful business-people with a taste for pioneering.

It is worth noting that self-made business-people have much greater freedom to take new initiatives than the heads of large publicly-held companies, whose shareholders generally keep strong pressure on them to keep to the areas in which they already have expertise. (Some years ago Richard Branson even took his company private after finding the influence of institutional shareholders too constraining.) So the arrival in 1999 of two experienced entrepreneurs with the ability to invest hundreds of $millions to develop space tourism without needing to seek approval from anyone (except their families!) is very promising.

It will be extremely interesting to follow the moves these companies make in future, decided with the aim of making money from space tourism. If their leaders can successfully apply their exceptional business skills in this new arena of activity, the names of Bigelow and Virgin will become as famous in future as Cunard and Boeing are in older travel industries.

Space Future wishes both companies the greatest good fortune. And we hope that their founders will be as successful in offering space tourism services as they have been to date in other areas of business.

See also "Billionaire Shops for Space Tourism Vehicle", Space News, May 10, 1999, p 6.
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Patrick Collins 13 May 1999
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