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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Introduction - What is Space Tourism?
Space Tourism is the term that's come to be used to mean ordinary members of the public buying tickets to travel to space and back. Many people find this idea futuristic. But over the past few years a growing volume of professional work has been done on the subject, and it's now clear that setting up commercial space tourism services is a realistic target for business today.

The first steps will just be short sub-orbital flights, like Alan Shepard made in 1961, since these are easier than getting to orbit. But the technical know-how to make passenger launch vehicles and orbiting hotel accommodation is available, and there is enormous unsatisfied demand - market research has revealed that most people, at least in the industrialized countries, would like to take a trip to space if it was possible. This gives huge scope for reducing the cost of space travel by large-scale operation like airlines.

The main obstacle is simply the conservatism of the space industry as it is today. Since Sputnik was launched in 1957 most space activities have been funded by governments.

And this "cold war" pattern of space activities has created an image of space that colours everyones' thinking about it - writers, journalists, politicians, scientists and engineers, and the general public. Even science fiction writers assume as obvious that most space activities will always be government activities.

As on Earth, so in Space

On Earth governments provide a number of services, defence, police, a legal system. But most activities are private - done by individuals and companies. Well, it's going to be the same in space. The Cold War is now over, and space agencies' budgets are being cut. True, so far, instead of using their huge funding to try to develop a profitable business like space tourism, the agencies are continuing the same activities - even though taxpayers aren't so interested any more.

However, the general public are very interested in traveling to space for themselves. So after some false starts in the 1950s, 60s and 80s, work towards realizing space tourism is finally starting to gather some momentum (see the timeline). And the reasons why it is going to happen this time include:

  • Because people want it
  • Because it's a realistic objective
  • Because it's the only way in which space activities can become profitable
  • Because it's the quickest way to start to use the limitless resources of space to solve our problems on Earth
  • Because living in space involves every line of business, from construction to marketing, fashion, interior-design and law
And not least,
  • Because it will be fun!

Please note, developing low-cost passenger launch vehicles is not just to create a pastime for the rich. In business, the companies that make big money are the ones that serve big markets. Like tourism on Earth, there will be a small expensive segment for the rich - but the great majority of space tourists will be middle-class customers - the greater majority of us.

But utilizing space depends on access. Until access is cheap, we can't make use of the limitless resources available in space to solve the problems of our ever-more-crowded Earth. But once access is cheap then we can. And to make it cheap we need large turnover. Tourism can generate the large-scale launch activity needed to reduce costs sufficiently to start to use space resources - and so it's one of the most important projects in the world today.

That is, commercial space activities today include satellites being used for communications, broadcasting and photography (remote sensing). But these are small businesses - no more than a few $billions per year - that will never need humans in space. So "commercial space activities" today are not leading towards space tourism.

Consequently specific efforts need to be made to set up space tourism services, because they won't happen as a natural consequence of present-day space activities.

Some people say "Developing space tourism is very difficult, so it'll take a long time. Leave it to the government space agencies." But the agencies already spend $25 billion per year on "space activities" - and they are not trying to develop launch vehicles that could open space up to the public. Barely 2% of their budgets are used for this purpose - although even just one year of their huge funding would be plenty!

So Space Future is playing its part by collecting all the work that is going on, and making it accessible, to help people to understand that this is the way to the space age.

Phases of Space Tourism

Like any other business, once space tourism gets started it will develop progressively. It can be helpful to think of it as going through several phases. Starting with a relatively small-scale and relatively high-priced "pioneering phase", the scale of activity will grow and prices will fall as it matures. Finally it will become a mass-market business, like aviation today.

Pioneering phase

The phrase "space adventure travel" has been suggested by Gordon Woodcock of Boeing, and is a convenient one to describe the first phase. Customers will be relatively few - from hundreds per year to thousands per year; prices will be high, $50,000 and up; and the service will be nearer to "adventure travel" than to luxury hotel-style. Orbital accommodation will be safe but "spartan".

Mature phase

This will see demand growing from thousands of passengers per year to hundreds of thousands per year. Tickets to orbit will cost less and flights will depart from many different airports. Orbital facilities will grow from being just clusters of pre-fabricated modules to large structures constructed in orbit for hundreds of guests, permitting a range of orbital entertainments.

Mass phase

Ticket prices will fall to the equivalent of a few $ thousand, and customers will from hundreds of thousands to millions of passengers per year. Apparently unthinkable to most people in the space industry, even 1 million passengers per year is just 8 hours of aviation! And aviation is still growing fast at today's level of 1 billion passengers per year. So there's no reason to suppose that space travel will ever stop growing. There's certainly no limit to the possible destinations. And the access to space resources that low cost launch will bring about will ensure that economic growth needn't end for a few more millenia at least!

Space tourism is an idea whose time has come. It's going to start soon, and it's going to grow rapidly, generating the funds needed to open up space to a wide range of human activities.

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