The main problem about space is how much it costs to get there: it's too expensive! And that's mainly because launch vehicles are expendable - either entirely, like satellite launchers, or partly, like the space shuttle.

So we need reusable launch vehicles. The trouble is that these will not only reduce the cost of launch - they'll also put the makers out of business, unless there's more to launch than just a few satellites a year, as there are today.

Fortunately there's a market that will generate far more launch business than satellites ever well - passenger travel. Market Research has shown that the idea of space tourism is very very popular. And so, just like aviation, the launch industry is going to find that most of its business will be carrying passengers.

But this idea of Space Tourism isn't at all familiar to most people, including the space industry, who are used to the idea that space is for research or military activities. Few people are aware of how much work has been done to show that tourism is a realistic goal, and how rapidly this work is now progressing.

Once travel to orbit becomes a commercial service, the question of how to get to space will be mainly one of saving up for a ticket - or looking for work in one of the many space hotels that will be built. Space offers unique pleasures including the view, and zero gravity activities that provide a whole range of things to do on an orbital holiday - including space sports.

Importantly, and contrary to what many people assume, the space agencies are not at all interested in space tourism, and are not trying to bring it about. This is a pity because space activities will never be profitable until tourism services begin, remaining small-scale, expensive, and dependent on taxes which come from you - which would you prefer?

29 July 2012
Added "Space Debris and Its Mitigation" to the archive.
16 July 2012
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.
9 December 2010
Updated "What the Growth of a Space Tourism Industry Could Contribute to Employment, Economic Growth, Environmental Protection, Education, Culture and World Peace" to the 2009 revision.
7 December 2008
"What the Growth of a Space Tourism Industry Could Contribute to Employment, Economic Growth, Environmental Protection, Education, Culture and World Peace" is now the top entry on Space Future's Key Documents list.
30 November 2008
Added Lynx to the Vehicle Designs page.
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Space Tourism and the Space Agencies
NASA and ESA and other space agencies are currently facing great difficulties, due to falling public support. The budgets they receive are being cut because politicians don't get many votes for defending them. Basically, people don't like paying taxes. And so, without discussing the details, or whether it's a good or bad thing, we can say that most people in the USA and Europe aren't keen to pay taxes (currently $20 billion/year!) to pay for government space research, including paying for government employees to go to space to do experiments. In surveys in the USA, NASA is far down the list of peoples' concerns - far below crime, energy and the environment, for example.

By contrast, most people, at least in the rich countries, would like to take a trip to space for themselves if it was possible - market research has shown this. However, most people also think they never will, because they believe that space travel is impossible for ordinary people,

"...otherwise NASA would already be doing it".

This shows that most people misunderstand what NASA, ESA and other space agencies actually do.

The Space Race

During the cold war, the US government set up an agency to compete with the Soviet Union in sending government employees into space on top of missiles. Whether that was a good idea or not is a big subject - though most people would agree that by putting the first man on the Moon, Apollo 11 won the USA huge recognition around the world.

However, whatever the merits of the "space race" were from a political point-of-view, riding missiles is no way to travel! It's far too unreliable, and far too expensive. If aeroplanes were thrown away after every flight, air travel would never have become a business!

Since using throw-away rockets is so expensive, the agencies should stop spending huge amounts of taxpayers' money on non-urgent activities developing and using expendable launch vehicles. These vehicles are a dead end; they can NEVER "open the space frontier". The truth is, the launch industry must be the most old-fashioned industry in the world. Is there any other industry that still uses vehicles designed 40 years ago?

The Role of National Space Agencies

So if government space agencies have a role in the post cold-war world, their main priority should be to reduce the cost of launch and improve its reliability radically. Then the public can travel to and from space for themselves, and the agencies' own activities will become much less expensive. In order to make space travel commercially practical we need fully reusable launch vehicles, designed for repeated use like commercial aircraft.

But, what most people don't appreciate is that the space agencies are making almost NO effort to develop such vehicles. Out of the $25 billion of taxpayers' money which the government space agencies around the world spend each year, over the past 10 years not even 1% has been used to try to open space up to the public who pay for these agencies.

Today, satellites are used for communications, broadcasting and photography ('remote sensing') - but these are small-scale activities, a few $billion per year, that will never need humans in space. (By comparison, a single large company today has a turnover of $30 billion/year.) These activities are not leading towards a future in which ordinary members of the public can travel to orbit and back. So unless specific efforts are made to start space travel services, they won't happen as a natural consequence of today's space activities - however much money the agencies are given.

What space agencies' role should be in the post-cold-war world is debatable - but the fact is that they are NOT trying to open space to the public. They weren't originally set up to consider the commercial aspects of space, so it's not really surprising that they're taking so long to even recognise the issue. For example, almost none of the work reported in Space Future comes from the agencies.

So it's most important to see that the fact that the agencies have not yet developed launch systems suitable for popular space travel does NOT mean that it isn't possible. They haven't tried. They haven't tried, and they aren't trying now. They're carrying on doing what they did for decades during the cold war, but using falling budgets. Once people understand this, then we can see a) that making popular space travel available is a realistic project, and b) we have to take some active steps to get it to happen.

A Ray of Hope?

The good news is that the penny is dropping. Recently Mr Goldin the head of NASA has stated that reducing the cost of launch by 90% is a priority. True, he faces plenty of opposition within NASA - from those spending the 98% of the budget that isn't aimed at reducing the cost of access to space!

But Reusable Launch Vehicle ( RLV) work is under way, and he's said " RLV will be the last light to go out..."

So through the next 4 years NASA will spend all of 2% of its budget on reusable launch vehicle projects. NASA is also cooperating with the private "Space Transportation Association" (STA) based in Washington DC on a study of space tourism. So it can reasonably claim that it's making some effort towards reducing launch costs.

NASA also published this picture of a sports stadium on the Moon in 1996:

A neat concept - far more so than a Mars research base, for example. And much more likely to be a profitable investment once low-cost launch vehicles become available.

ESA has yet to make such an effort, however. It spends barely a few % of 1% of its budget studying reusable vehicles (in the FESTIP program) - and France and Britain don't even take part. So it's really not a serious effort! ESA's official policy is "no launch vehicle except Ariane until 2020". (Note: Ariane is expendable; it doesn't carry people; and it costs about $100 million per flight. Enough said!) And in a recent ESA study of its vision of space activities until 2020, space travel by the general public is not considered at all.

The Bucks Stop Here

At current budget levels, during the next 20 years, the space agencies of the world would use $500 billion! Yet developing a space travel industry would not require more than a single year's funding! This is clearly not good enough. In fact it's completely crazy! Put another way - why do the space agencies care so little about what the public would like them to do? (Remember, market research has shown that most people would like to take a trip to space for themselves.) It seems unlikely that in the post-cold war world the agencies will be able to continue to disregard taxpayers' wishes so totally. So it's surely a good bet that they will not receive that $500 billion.

Recently, due to lack of projects of interest to the governments which fund them, ESA has even begun to consider collaborating on military projects - though this is contrary to the non-military basis of its establishment. But in view of the enormous popularity of tourism, this is a case of "starvation in the midst of plenty". So presumably it's just a question of how long the agencies intend to keep their heads in the sand. Any bets, anyone? Maybe they'll stick it out to the end, remaining resolutely separate from "popular" space activities like tourism and energy supply. But in that case their budgets are likely to be cut a long way further, and they'll become research centers, buying launch and other services from outside. NASA is progressively privatizing many of its activities, so perhaps that's the logical end for space agency restructuring in the post-cold-war world.

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