25 February 2002
- Tourism (Good)
Boeing Makes Strong Case for Space Tourism
- while claiming it's doing the opposite
by Patrick Collins
In a short item entitled “Tourism Cost Realities” in Aviation Week and Space Technology (February 4, p 17) Boeing gives some hints about recent work on a space tourism vehicle. Boeing's conclusion is that they could not develop that vehicle on a commercial basis - but the figures they quote actually strongly support the case for funding the production of space tourism vehicles.

As stated in the article, Boeing estimates that developing a 50-passenger vehicle would cost $16 billion, and that it would need to fly 800 times/year in order to carry passengers at a price of $150,000 each. They conclude that this is “impractical” - which implies they estimate that 30-40,000 passengers/year at $150,000 is more than the actual demand would be - though without properly-funded market research this remains uncertain.

However, if Boeing Space & Communications’ engineers worked with their colleagues in Boeing Commercial Airplanes, they'd see that building a few dozen of the same vehicle would lead to prices of $30-40,000/passenger on turnover approaching 700,000 passengers/year - which looks close to the actual demand, based on market research that has been done to date.

More importantly, they could achieve this price with only 300 flights/year per vehicle rather than 800. This is essential, because even if the vehicle was capable of 2 orbital flights/day, it is impossible to make two return-flights/day to orbiting hotels, even using optimally rendezvous-compatible orbits. And market research shows that much of the demand for space tourism depends on staying in orbit for a few days.

Even if the results of Boeing’s study were widely agreed to be the best possible solution, which isn’t at all likely in view of the negligible funding that passenger launch vehicle studies have received, taxpayers would be far better served if governments paid the whole $16 billion to develop this vehicle and then privatised it than just continuing to fund space agencies' current activities. The explosion in commercial utilisation of space that such a vehicle would bring about would require just a few percent of the $20 billion/year that space agencies currently spend on non-science space activities with little economic value. Even better, of course, would be funding arrangements that enabled a variety of companies to raise funds to pursue a variety of different approaches to passenger transportation.

It's very desirable that Boeing should publish details of their study, so it can be compared with related work, such as that of the Japanese Rocket Society, of which the conclusions are in much the same ball-bark. The closeness of the figures to business 'closure' is yet further evidence that space agencies' current policy of opposing the development of passenger space travel is directly contrary to their legal obligation to aid the commercial development of space -- and is thereby actually preventing it.
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Patrick Collins 25 February 2002
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