24 December 1999
- Tourism (Good)
Space Future Thoughts for the New Century
"Passenger space travel will be for the 21st century what aviation was for the 20th century"
by Patrick Collins
With powered flight starting in 1903, aviation grew from zero to nearly $1 trillion/year by the end of the 20th century. So, starting in 2003 - and a sub-orbital space flight by private citizens will be the most appropriate achievement to commemorate the centenary of the Wright brothers' historic, first powered flight - we can expect to see space tourism services growing to a huge scale by 2100. Indeed, the potential for economic growth in the 21st century is much greater than that in the 20th, due to the accumulation of financial assets and to the growth and spread of financial markets world-wide. Consequently a new idea (such as mobile phones) can grow and spread through the entire world economy in just a few years. Thus passenger space travel could grow to reach a turnover of about $1 trillion/year by 2050 (by which time aviation will be several $trillion/year).

As NASA stated in NP-1998-03-11-MSFC "...generally available trips to orbit and week-long stays in LEO hotels now can be seen as certainly feasible." When the implications of this sink in, and the rich countries start to devote just a few percent of what they already spend on non-profit-making government space activities to space tourism, we will see rapid growth of space travel services, which could easily reach a turnover of $100 billion/year by 2030. From there to $1 trillion/year by 2050 is an easy evolution, enabling a significant proportion of the world's middle classes to take a trip to space by the middle of the century.

This scenario is unquestionably possible; it will require less investment than the $1.25 trillion that space agencies would spend if they were allowed to continue their current practices; and most of the investment will come from the private sector - earning a commercial profit, generating millions of jobs, and enriching society. However, it cannot start while we are stuck in the present situation where governments give $25 billion/year to space agencies - but investors do not have the confidence to invest even a few hundred $ million to develop passenger vehicles. Consequently, how far towards this attractive scenario we actually get by 2050 depends on how much longer taxpayers continue to pay for space activities that are neither profitable nor heading in this direction before they twig that "there's a better way". The sooner this happens, the better for economic growth and for the welfare of the entire human race.

Targets for 2000

  • Continuing education of the public - including the media and politicians - about the enormous potential benefits for world-wide economic growth of developing passenger space travel services, which are not achievable with any other space activity.

  • Change of space agencies' out-of-date policy of spending $25 billion/year of taxpayers' money while continuing to ignore the development of passenger space travel services - the only space activity which promises to contribute significantly to economic growth.

  • Recognition by economic policy-makers of the unique potential of a commercial passenger space travel industry, and the enormous cost to taxpayers of the opportunity being wasted by current "space policy".

  • Funding for passenger space vehicle makers - the people who are going to make it all possible.

  • Sponsorship for Space Future: coming up to 400,000 hits, we have a ton of ideas for improving our current activities, and for additional services to offer - including how to raise the hit rate many-fold. But these all require investment of time and effort - in a word, sponsorship. We look forward to being able to realise some of them in 2000!

Review of 1999
1999 was another good year for the spread of acceptance of the idea of space tourism.

Important articles were published in the mainstream press such as Stern, San Francisco Chronicle - and most recently in the January 2000 "Wired" (available in late 1999).

Progress by piloted launch vehicle makers such as Rotary Rocket and Bristol Spaceplanes - though they are all currently hard up against the brick wall of institutional investors' perceptions.

Founding of Bigelow Aerospace and Virgin Galactic, and formation of SpaceHab's joint venture to build a commercial module to be connected to the Russian sector of the international space station.

First space tourism conferences in Britain (to be followed up in March 2001 by the British Interplanetary Society) and the USA (to be followed up in 2000 by the Space Transportation Association) - as well as the 2nd international symposium in Germany.

Mr Goldin's promise to put NASA's own space tourism report on NASA's web-site which he has yet to keep! (What's he frightened of?)

As background, the flurry of launch failures of expendable rockets in the USA and Russia (despite 40 years of experience) was further proof of the fundamental weakness of using missiles - which are used only once and therefore cannot achieve high reliability - for transportation. There is a better way - that is to use piloted, reusable vehicles for passenger-carrying, based on the commercially successful, world-wide aviation industry.

Progress in 2000
The new year will see further space tourism progress in many directions. It will feature as a theme at the Berlin Festival, the Millenium Dome in London, and the Farnborough Air Show among other venues, and will be a topic at the following conferences:

Sadly, for 2000 we will see the continuation of the bizarre situation that the economic value of the space tourism work presented at these space conferences (ie the present value of the future profits that space tourism will generate) is greater than that of all the work presented at the other sessions - yet governments provide $25 billion/year in funding for the economically less valuable work - and almost nothing for the space tourism work, which is still largely a volunteer effort! This situation is a powerful lesson on the essential weakness of government organisations at either economic efficiency or self-reform in the face of changing times.

With economic storm-clouds looming over this millenial "Year of the Dragon", Space Future wishes all its supporters a prosperous new year and century - and we look forward to the real space age that they will bring.
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Patrick Collins 24 December 1999
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