A reality of Space Tourism

Space is truly the final frontier for mankind. As future space tourists, we should keep our eyes on the fast-developing space industry, as it will shape our civilization for decades to come.

Imagine yourself heading out with your family on your annual vacation. Except, this time you aren’t going to a harbour for a Caribbean cruise or to an airport for a Chilean skiing tour. Instead you thrill to the idea that in a couple of hours you’ll be in a spaceport, waiting in line to take your places in a spaceship for this much-anticipated trip to the Moon. This scenario is a likely picture of what might be encountered in the next few decades.

This isn’t to say that space tourism isn’t available now; in fact, Russia has previously allowed some space tourists to travel alongside their cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for anywhere between 20 and 40 million US dollars (an insignificant sum for some of us, the Earthlings).

The goal, however, for the burgeoning space tourism sector is to make these trips more affordable for the average citizen and to provide infrastructure needed to make spaceflights possible. Today, most of the spacecraft can no longer be used after completing their mission and are discarded, which can prove to be extremely costly. Thus, companies wishing to invest in space tourism are currently researching methods of reusable space transportation.

SpaceX, for instance, has a prototype spaceship called Dragon that can transport up to 7 crew members. It is currently working with NASA to find a way to transport people headed to the orbit to work there, but it also hopes to provide commercial spaceflights to ordinary citizens.

Reaction Engines Ltd has proposed a “space-plane” named SKYLON that produces thrust by burning liquid hydrogen fuel with the oxygen from the air, significantly reducing the amount of liquid oxygen needed on board the ship to burn the fuel. Its SABRE engines will accelerate the ship to Mach 5 – that’s 6125 km/hour up until 25 kilometers above sea level, at which point the engines will switch to rocket mode and carry it the rest of the way to space.

The design received endorsement from the European Space Agency (ESA) in November 2012, and they were looking for funding to build there SABRE engines.

Another well-known company, Virgin Galactics, already had more than 500 ticket holders in 2014 waiting to catch a ride on board SpaceShipTwo, a spaceship that can hold two crew members and six passengers. The Virgin Galactics plans for this spacecraft to be the first ship that sends  tourists to space on a regular basis. The ticket price is currently reported to be $200,000 with a $20,000 down payment, a price much more lower that what the Russians charge. One of the first few planned trips are supposed to take passengers 110 kilometers above sea level marking the beginning of open space, for a total weightlessness duration of 6 minutes.

It is important to keep in mind that these ships will need dedicated ports to house them and to accommodate them for takeoff and landing. Several of these have already been open, like Spaceport America in New Mexico, open for business since 2011 and a few others are being built.

In addition to transportation, future space travelers will need tourist destinations to visit and accommodations to live in for the duration of their journey. A couple of companies are looking into providing housing for these individuals during their stay before the takeoff.

Bigelow Aerospace Company plans to send housing modules into space alongside spacecraft. These modules are compact rooms that can inflate upon command to form livable areas that are shielded from the radiation of the Sun. Theoretically Bigelow Aerospace could build an entire hotel room by room just by interconnecting these modules, effectively creating new destinations in space for tourists. One of these modules is destined to connect to the International Space Station in 2015 or later, providing Bigelow Aerospace with a chance to demonstrate their concept.

Space Island Group, another contender in the space tourism business, intends to build ring-like structures that can spin at variable speeds to create an artificial gravity that is equal to a third of the gravity of Earth. This could be highly beneficial, as it may potentially eliminate many of the negative effects that come from prolonged exposure to low-gravity environments, such as muscle atrophy or loss of bone density.

Naturally, all these accommodations will need to regularly stock oxygen, food, water and other supplies for the guests. While some of these necessities could be grown or recycled on the stations themselves, most supplies would still need to be sent directly from Earth. One candidate for these missions is SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is capable of carrying a total of 10T of cargo, more than enough to resupply future space hotels. As a matter of fact, in 2008 already NASA employed Falcon 9 to send supplies to the International Space Station, thus illustrating its potential as a reliable cargo carrier.

Safety will be one of the main factors that will make or break the future of space tourism. Before governments can allow their citizens to leave the planet, companies must prove that their shuttles and living quarters will protect their customers throughout their journey.

The US government has already begun to draft some guidelines to ensure safety of their citizens who wish to travel to space. In 2004, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, H.R. 5382, was signed into law. It provides rules and regulations that space companies must follow to legally send people to space, such as getting a license from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).

… After all, we might soon find ourselves staring at a tiny blue dot outside our windows and reminiscing of a time when this was all but an impossible dream…

Sources:

  • Roupen Djinbachian, Space Tourism close to becoming a reality Technophilic, Winter 2013, page 22).
  • Space Tourist Back From “Paradise”, Lands on Steppes”, by Patrick E. Tyler.
  • Elysium, movie 2013.
  • Clark, Stephen (September 2010), “Boeing allies with Space Adventures for tourist flights”.
  • “Anywhere on Earth in four hours? Top-secret Skylon space plane could replace jets and rockets, company claims”. National Post, 29 November 2012.
  • “Branson Dedicates Space Terminal”, Wall Street Journal, 18 October 2011.
  • “International space station to receive inflatable module”, Washington Post, 16 January 2013.
  • “Private-spaceflight bill signed into law”, NBC News, 23 December 2004.

island of montreal

What will we discover in Outer Space, is nothing compared with our beloved planet (Quotations from Megan Jorgensen). Image : © Megan Jorgensen

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