Space tourism?

Posted 8:51 AM by crkota in Labels: , ,
Space is the next frontier in adventure travel, suggests a survey analysis, with sub-orbital tourism perhaps embracing the modern-day jet set this year.

In the current Acta Astronautica journal, VĂ©ronique Ziliotto of Holland's European Space Research and Technology Centre, looks at recent polls and industry estimates to reckon the chances of space tourism getting off the ground. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo effort, in particular, looks to start flights as soon as this year, she notes, and already has about 200 flight reservations.

"In 2003, luxury travel had 20 million customers globally and generated 91 billion in revenue, which represents 20% of tourism revenues worldwide. This large untapped market represents a unique chance for space tourism," Ziliotto writes. Since then, she adds, "(t)hanks to recent technological achievements such as Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne in 2004, Bigelow's Genesis I in July 2006 and Genesis II in July 2007 and the success of space adventures' flights to the ISS, space tourism is leaving the realm of science-fiction." The Bigelow Genesis I inflatable space station prototype made its 10,000th orbit of Earth in 2008.

A 2006 Futron Corporation poll of millionaires, asking them about their interest in Virgin Galactic sub-orbital space flights, found that "estimated demand for the year 2021 would be over 13,000 passengers, generating revenues in excess of US$600 million." Tickets would be $200,000 the first three years, and then drop to $50,000 thereafter. A second "adventurer's" survey that year found less demand until tickets dropped to $50,000; many of the customers preferred to wait for moon trips, not currently envisioned by space tourism firms.

More recently, one aerospace firm estimated the demand for space flights at 13,000 to 15,000 passengers per year. "In this case, the market would not be limited by demand but by the number of attractive locations for spaceports on Earth that permit a safe integration of spacecrafts in the local air traffic," Ziliotto writes.

"Promises made to public that in some future, ordinary people may experience most of the feelings of professional astronauts by simply booking a seat in a privately operated spaceship, appear today credible to some operators," says France's Christophe Bonnal of the CNES–Launcher Directorate, in an editorial accompanying the analysis. "The hurdles are nevertheless quite significant in all domains, technical, legal, medical, insurance, and even when solved, the viability of the market will have to be demonstrated. Today, one can say we still have more questions than answers."

Legal and regulatory hurdles "are undoubtedly among the most severe constraints today", he adds, particularly outside the USA. A space symposium in France last looked at the demand for space tourism in 2008, he notes, prior to the current severe economic downturn.

"The commercial future of suborbital space travel is deemed promising and the interest in private spaceflight has built up during the last few years," concludes Ziliotto. "Nevertheless, it still faces major challenges and winning the potential customers' confidence about the safety of the flights is not the least one. An accident in the early phases of commercial operation could bring the industry to a halt and jeopardize its future."

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