3 January 2008
News - Tourism (Bad)
Roskosmos to Halt Space Tourism?
Station Crew 6, Space Tourists 0
by Carol Pinchefsky
by Carol Pinchefsky

The year 2007 ended with the news from Anatoly Perminov, the chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos), who said, "I'm afraid that from 2009, tourism as we see it today may be discontinued."

According to an AP press release, the crew of the International Space Station must be comprised of six people if Japanese or European scientific modules are launched. Although the ISS is designed to carry six astronauts and/or scientists, currently only three people crew the station.

Six people stationed on the ISS, says Perminov, means no room to support the presence of space tourists. Not, of course, that the ISS was exactly designed for tourists even at its present three-person crew level.

The news does leave Space Adventures, the adventure travel business that arranges visits to the ISS, with a significant hole in its business model. However, the glass may be half full: rather than rely on the Soyuz for transport, Space Adventures could be seeking new partners. (Space Adventures did not immediately respond to an interview request.)

Toward that end, a number of enterprising companies like Rocketplane Global, SpaceX, and the fully-funded Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, are developing suborbital planes. A trip on one of these vehicles would cost less than a sojourn on the Soyuz, but the potential customer base is also orders of magnitude higher.

Of course, it's also possible that Roskosmos is just looking for a bigger glass -- with the only orbital space tourism gig in town and plenty of demand, the incentive to raise prices is obvious.

The AP article stated, “Perminov said demand for space travel, even at the astronomical prices currently charged, was already overwhelming Roskosmos's ability to provide seats.” The fact that there is a demand for space tourism, even at $30 million a ticket, is proof enough that these companies are heading in the right direction.

The ISS is comprised of separate modules, which can boost the number of astronauts and/or scientists on board. Four new modules will arrive by 2010. However, the ISS may not be alone. Bigelow Aerospace is currently at work on “crewed space complex,” a space station, to provide an alternate destination to the ISS. By this time, the ISS is ready for space tourists, it may only be as a stopgap before Bigelow unveils its magnum opus.
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Carol Pinchefsky 3 January 2008
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