Tourism Beyond The Earth

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The emergence and development of commercial space visits

For as long as we can remember, space has been one of mankind’s biggest fascinations and points of interest. The urge to ‘know’ what lies beyond the naked eyes, to decode mysteries, and to reveal the biggest secrets of the universe has always been a tempting topic for humans. During childhood, our faces would brighten up at the sight of the Moon. With curious eyes, we would look at the stars like we have known them for so long. From the times of philosophers like Socrates to the modern times of NASA, people have always wondered and thought deeply about space. Sailors and travelers would navigate their voyages by looking at the position of the stars, and people today still find their ways to hope and solace by staring deep into the blue ocean that lies above us. The numerous associations of love stories and poetry with moonlit nights and stars have formed somewhat of a mysteriously affectionate bonding between the human mind and the ‘sky’. Almost every human being, at some point in their life, has wished to become an astronaut. Human beings’ pursuit of exploring space is probably what has led them to make such giant leaps in terms of technological advancements as well as in the fields of science and astronomy. We, human beings, only know a portion of the universe that would relatively be less than a single drop of water compared to the ocean, meaning the universe is so vast that whatever we have been able to discover and learn about it is still very little. Therefore, it is safe to say that the vast majority of the universe and space are still ‘unknown’. And maybe that very basic human nature of wanting to explore the unknown is what drives people towards a voyage to the ‘outer world’. From the Moon to the solar system to the Milky Way to the universe and multiverses, humans want to witness and discover all that there is to see and all that there is to know. Every human being wants to see what the Earth looks like from space. How does the piece of rock and water that we call home look in motion from a third-person perspective? Constant efforts have been made over a long period to facilitate space traveling for the general public, but up until now, technological constraints and the enormous costs associated with traveling to space have been restricting the availability of such a service. But maybe people’s ambition and obsession with space-traveling are what gave rise to the space tourism industry. Gone are those days when anybody could not dream of going to space. In fact, it is now more ‘feasible’ than you might think. With the emergence and dramatic triumph of the space tourism industry, it seems like the day when people will casually be able to travel to space is closer than ever. Back on April 28, 2001, a wealthy businessman named Dennis Tito became the first-ever tourist to visit the International Space Station by paying a hefty amount of $20 million to reserve a seat on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Since then, only seven people have done the same. But that figure is projected to double in the next one year alone, which is a testimony to the market’s rapid growth.
In earlier times, the global space industry was dominated by government-run national agencies. However, the scenario today is different. Several privately-owned new entrants have broken into the scene. Not only that, such has become the case that private space companies are now working in collaboration with the national space agencies in order to achieve common goals. Commercial businesses are now understanding the benefits and significance of space systems for high-speed data transfers, broadcasting, commercial navigation, and mobile satellite communications. Moreover, asteroid mining, in-space manufacturing, and space-based solar power are only to name a few of the additional advantages and scopes that are offered by such emerging space activities. It seems that such space activities are attracting substantial positive interest from the private sector. For all the benefits it offers and the growing interest from private organizations, the space tourism industry is demonstrating statistics to claim that it could potentially become a huge sector in the future. Recent research on the sub-orbital transportation and space tourism market in 2020 revealed that the market stood at an estimated worth of $428.8 million. However, this is where it gets interesting! If the market cap isn’t impressive enough, the growth rate also is more rapid and dramatic than ever before. Projections show that the market is expected to stand at a staggering worth of $2.6 billion by the completion of the year 2031.

 

Projections show that the market is expected to stand at a staggering worth of $2.6 billion by the completion of the year 2031.

 

In more recent years, the space industry has been eyeing the prospect of enabling space transportation through the development of cutting-edge technologies. These space transportation services include parabolic flights, orbital transportation, sub-orbital transportation, and space tourism in general. With private space companies receiving the support of national space agencies, growth is expected to be rapid and significant. To cut down on costs, a lot of space companies have attempted to develop reusable launch vehicle systems, meaning these systems can be reused for more than one flight. This does not only provide a solution to the problem of high costs of space transportation but also promotes sustainability. These private space companies are trying to focus more on suborbital transportation right now. One of the major reasons behind this is that it incurs significantly lowers costs relative to other modes of space transportation. This presents the companies with an opportunity to charge their customers a substantially lower price for space transportation facilities, making the service less exclusive to the rich only and more accessible for everyone. There are a number of top players in the space tourism industry right now. Any of these companies can send you to space, of course, for the right (quite hefty) price! Whenever we speak of private space companies, one name that comes to mind is SpaceX, owned by celebrity billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. If an individual is looking to go into space and orbit the Earth, Space X is their one and only option. SpaceX charges $55 million for each of its trips, which includes the flight and accommodation on the International Space Station. One such trip took place in September 2021, financed by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire businessman. On the other hand, the suborbital trips offered by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic cost far less, with both priced within the range of $200,000 to $250,000. Although these are still very big amounts of money, they are fairly reasonable relative to what SpaceX charges and for the ‘once in a lifetime’ experience they provide.
However, the answer to the question about whether it can be considered a space ‘tourism’ company was unclear up until more recent years. In 2018, SpaceX finally agreed to send Yusaku Maezawa, a wealthy billionaire businessman of Japan, along with a few artists on a trip around the Moon. The launch is targeted to take place in 2023, however, nothing is confirmed as of yet. Another such company is Blue Origin, which was founded in the year 2000 by the famous Amazon CEO and the richest man on Earth, Jeff Bezos. According to the plans of Blue Origin, it will send rockets and passenger capsules in order to transport tourists to the edge of space. The entire experience is designed to give the tourists a taste of space for a fraction of the price. The passenger will board the rocket which will elevate to a height of 300,000 feet. In the process, the passenger will experience weightlessness, witness stunning views, gain a bragging right of having been to space and return to the planet that he always has claimed to be home. All this for only $250,000! Cheap! Isn’t it?
However, everything good comes with its drawbacks. A big disadvantage of the emergence of the space tourism industry is added carbon dioxide emissions. The solution to this problem can be enhanced carbon offset policies in unison with the probable usage of rocket bio-fuels and eventually the extraction of in situ resources from the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. Another problem that may arise from such commercial trips to space is that increased activity in the Earth’s orbit may have some negative impacts on ‘space traffic’ and increase the risks of orbital debris collisions. However, this problem can be solved by mitigation and rocket stage recovery. SpaceX is in pursuit of recovering the majority of their Starship and Falcon Launchers, while Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are fully reusable systems. Increased de-orbiting and more satellite and spacecraft recovery measures will be required for protocols on launch activity in the future. At the end of the day, humans will carry on with their pursuit of exploring space, feeding their never-ending interest and curiosity about space, and the rise of the space tourism industry is a big step forward in this quest.

By Farhat Zishan

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