26 March 2007
Reports - Other (Bad)
When the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee Gathered
What participants really said
by Carol Pinchefsky
by Carol Pinchefsky


When the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee held its fifth Oral Evidence Session in its Inquiry on Space Policy on 21 February 2007, Space Future's Dr. Patrick Collins was invited to sit on the panel on Space Tourism, along with Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic Inc., and Jeff Gazzard, Board Member of the Aviation Environment Federation.

Invited to comment on whether space tourism was science fiction, Whitehorn extolled his company's "SpaceShipTwo" project, with its hopes for reducing the price of a flight to $50,000/passenger in 10 years, and Collins showed a photo of the SR.53 rocket-plane which first flew in Britain in 1957. Collins explained that a modern version of this could carry passengers on sub-orbital flights for as little as 3,000.

Committee Chairman Phil Willis and Committee Member Dr Spink asked Dr Collins to send them further information about this possibility. This supplementary Invited Submission to the Committee from Space Future Consulting explains that, for an investment of 50 million - just 2.5% of the 2 billion spent by BNSC over the past 20 years - a prototype spaceplane could be flying within 3 years. Within 5 years it could be certified to carry passengers, and within 10 years the price of commercial flights could be as low as 3,000 /passenger. Such a price would be approaching the level at which anyone who would fly on an aeroplane
could take a trip to space - which is what Space Future claims is the correct objective of space development.

Whitehorn spoke enthusiastically about Virgin Galactic's plans for space tourism while Gazzard revealed his pessimism about space travel: dangerous, frivilously expensive, and environmentally unsound. But Whitehorn countered Gazzard's criticism by claiming that a ten-year programme of Virgin Galactic flying 50,000 sub-orbital flights would cause less environmental pollution than two space shuttle launches.

The transcripts of the 2 earlier panels on 21 February explain why British scientists have long argued against HMG paying to participate in NASA's space shuttle or space station projects. The president of the Royal Society, Lord Rees, explained that, even if HMG spent 3 billion over 20 years, as recommended by the Royal Astronomical Society, Britain would still be only "minor partners in an American-led project."

By contrast, using reusable passenger vehicles could cost far less while supplying much more valuable and popular services to far more people.

Whitehorn and Collins agreed on this, but disagree on what role the British government should play: Whitehorn argued for legislation in the UK to allow commercial space flights to take place, but Collins argued for greater government involvement than this. Just as Europe needed to create Airbus to compete with Boeing in airliner production, now it needs to produce passenger space vehicles in order to compete with growing US efforts to realise space tourism.

Collins also pointed out that it is not NASA but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which is encouraging space tourism in the United States, noting that space agencies are "anti-space tourism agencies," and urging involvement by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Britain. The Committee is due to issue a Final Report after it finishes its hearings later this month, which the BNSC has said it will use in its currently ongoing strategy consultation.

Dr. Collins said, "We must hope both that the Committee will support Space Future's arguments in its Final Report, as the Trade Industry Committee did in 2000 - and that the BNSC will take more notice of the Science Technology Committee's Report than it did of the previous report supporting Space Future's position on space tourism."

The transcript of the 21 February oral evidence session can be found on the British government's Web site here .
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Carol Pinchefsky 26 March 2007
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