Sunday, 26 May 2024
Space tourism is more adventure than pleasure, at least for now during its infancy, but it will continue growing as it becomes more affordable. However, achieving this massive expansion will largely depend on the safety of space transport systems. Reaching space is not easy and carries a considerable cost.
Space Tourism has arrived, and it is here to stay"
Not to mention the fact that there is no detailed, uniform (that includes technical standards) international regulatory system in place to guarantee its safety and operational efficiency and to define and guarantee the standardization of its operations, from the launch from a spaceport to a medical certification, transportation, stay and return through Earth’s atmosphere.
A set of laws are also required to determine the liabilities resulting from a technical failure or the operation of the transport and the accommodations. When the safety of human beings is at stake, all situations must be considered in order to prevent problems down the line.
However, space tourism has arrived, and it is here to stay.
The business
Space Tourism is a market niche that made its appearance a few years ago and, not without effort, has resulted in what we now see as tourism for millionaires. It is, maybe, a necessary step that had to be taken before space tourism becomes widely available. Forecasts show that this segment is the most promising when it comes to luxury tourism a potential global market of over 10 billion dollars.
This new industry aims to offer tourists the chance to become astronauts and experience space travel for recreational or commercial purposes. Since space tourism is extremely expensive, only a small consumer segment can and wish to pay for a space experience.
One could expect for these efforts to be the foundations on top of which a future industry would develop that would manufacture vehicles and tourist accommodations and be profitable to the point of transporting thousands of people at more affordable prices up to, or even further than, 100 kilometers above the Earth at the appropriate orbital speed, which is considered to be the Karman line that sets the boundary between the atmosphere and space.
The Beginnings
Space Tourism has been a topic of discussion for over thirty years, and it was back in 2001 when, for the first time, a civilian considered to be the first space tourist spent eight days at the International Space Station (ISS). First came projects involving suborbital flights in fighters modified to carry many passengers.
Later, projects were devised to create hotels using spent fuel stages of satellite launch vehicles that remain in orbit for a long time. These would be joined in space and made maneuverable to be kept in orbit. However, none of these initiatives came to fruition, and were never developed nor funded.
As time passed other initiatives emerged, including the one by the Bigelow company, founded by a hospitality tycoon, which bases its design on expandable modules. The module is launched to space in a stowed configuration and, once there, it expands until it reaches its final size. Many modules would be used to create a ‘hotel in space’. As of now it has been the one that made it further, since it has put in orbit two prototypes in 2006 and 2007.
It was in back in 2001 when, for the first Time, a civilian considered to be the first Space tourist spent eight days at the International space station (ISS)”
Later, it sent the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to orbit, which became the first expandable module to make it to the International Space Station in 2016. Its dependence on launch vehicle costs has stalled its activities since then.
Others have emerged along the way without much luck, funding or feasibility. However, all of this has succeeded in getting the ball rolling, which has taken us to, possibly, the onset of a full-blown space tourism industry.
Types of Space tourism
Just like on earth’s surface, tourism always offers different options and prices, whether it is a pleasure cruise or an extreme adventure. It all depends on how much adrenaline you want and the price you are willing to pay.
As of now, we could say that there are four types of space tourism:
  • High altitude combat aircraft flights
  • Zero-gravity atmospheric flights
  • Short suborbital flights
  • Longer orbital trips to space
High altitude combat aircraft flights
One option available for space tourists today is to be taken up to the stratosphere in a supersonic combat aircraft which can reach an altitude of 20-22 km. At that height the stratosphere you can see Earth’s curvature, the sky is black and it is possible to see space.
As part of this space travel experience, tourists also have the opportunity to control the aircraft and there are a series of acrobatic maneuvers an experienced pilot performs. These flights allow of a vertical speed of 330 m/s and a top speed of Mach 2.25 (2390 km/h). It can be experienced for 15,000 to 20,000 euros.
Zero-gravity atmospheric flights
A feeling of weightlessness can be achieved by performing parabolic flights on a plane. As the plane climbs and stabilizes it goes over the arc of the parabola, the centrifugal force exerted on the plane and all of its contents cancels out the force of gravity pushing down.
At this point, passengers experience microgravity, feeling weightless because only negligible gravitational forces are present. The feeling of weightlessness lasts about 30 seconds during the descent. Since the aircraft shields the passengers from the airflow, they can experience a free fall without air resistance getting in the way. Its price is around 5,000 euros.
Short suborbital flights
A suborbital flight is one that reaches a height of 100 km or more, but does not entirely circle the Earth. Space tourism suborbital flights have recently been performed out of the Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spaceports, which allow passengers to experience weightlessness for a few minutes while gazing at the Earth’s atmosphere.
This opens the door to regular suborbital flights for a larger audience, which could become a reality in the next 10 years at a somewhat affordable ticket price, which could gradually drop down to € 20,000.
I just came back From paradise”
Longer orbital trips to space
Recently we have seen four space tourists in the Inspiration4 mission stay in orbit for three days, where they performed scientific experiments way more than your minutes-long experience.
However, the closest thing to a tourism trip to space has been the flight of North American tycoon and former NASA engineer Dennis Tito, considered to be the first space tourist. The first human being to travel to space solely for pleasure and after paying 20 million dollars arrived to the ISS on April 30, 2001.
At the ISS he operated the communications system and verified the power equipment of the Russian module, in addition to taking pictures, making home movies and doing a lot of gazing out of the windows all you would expect from a tourist. His words upon returning on May 6 were “I just came back from paradise.” He was followed by four other people under the same flight modality to the ISS for a long duration trip.
Reasons for space tourism
The accounts of the few astronauts who had launched themselves to Earth’s orbit just 10 years ago shook the tree of human curiosity. The business was obvious, and as years passed it has increased its chances of becoming something real. High costs held back its realization for a long time, but little by little and thanks to private initiatives, we have been able to reach the point where we are today.
Nowadays, that reality seems to be even closer. Just as we see how the number of satellites in orbit are growing exponentially due to the rise of Internet constellations, we are also seeing a rapid increase in the number of astronauts who leave Earth’s atmosphere.
The main reasons for this space tourism fever, which has driven the emergence of all of these initiatives, are:
  • Seeing Earth from space
  • Experiencing weightles sness
  • Experiencing high speeds
  • Living an unusual experience
  • Scientific contribution
Seeing earth from space
Ever since the first astronauts, the idea of seeing our own planet from outside has had a big impact a distant perspective that changes the perception of things. In low Earth orbit, for example, you cannot see the entire Earth you are still too close, but you can see the atmosphere in the horizon. However, you can sense the vast magnitude of the planet we live in.
From geostationary orbit it is possible to see the entire planet in all of its glory, and how it melds with a canvas filled with stars. Lastly, we have had the luck of having another, more distant point of view. When leaving the Solar System, the Voyager 1 probe took a picture facing the Earth from a distance of 6 billion kilometers.
We are overwhelmed by the idea of being so small, and by the fact that we cannot be alone in this universe”

The image shows the Earth as a speck: Carl Sagan’s famous Pale Blue Dot,  an almost undiscernible point of light due to the Sun’s brightness. Upon looking at it, we are overwhelmed by the idea of being so small, and by the fact that we cannot be alone in this universe.

Experiencing weightlessness
This unique form of tourism involves using a specially modified commercial plane where trained pilots perform parabolic maneuvers. These flights offer the opportunity to experience ‘weightlessness’ without going to space. The aircraft are modified with padded cabins to prevent injuries during the flights while weightless.
The European Space Agency also performs these flights to test instruments and payloads that will later be taken to the International Space Station, as is the case of CIMON.
Experiencing high speeds
Another reason to go to space is, without a doubt, the high speeds. In order to leave Earth’s orbit, it is necessary to reach escape velocity, which is around 11 kilometers per second (40,280 km/h). If that velocity is not reached, Earth’s pull cannot be overcome.
Experiencing the speed and sound of a rocket launch is a critical moment in the life of a satellite, and it must be designed to withstand it, so it is even more important to be extra safe when sending a human being to space. In the space tourism of the future, medical examinations will be an essential component.
Living an unusual experience
Skydiving, bungee jumping, kitesurfing and wingsuit flying are extreme sports that are sought to escape the daily routine and get your adrenaline pumping. Experiencing something new that fills our lives with emotions points to space travel being among the favorite experiences of the future, provided that it is affordable.
Scientific contribution
Lastly, as already mentioned, zero-gravity flights aboard aircraft are used to study and certify payloads that will head to space. But space tourism could go even further. The vast data on human behavior and health in the space environment alone could lead to very interesting insights for a future colonization of the Moon or Mars.
Future outlook
The commercial space race is only beginning. Three American companies have announced a project to build what would become the first private space station of humanity with the purpose of performing scientific studies and welcoming tourists. The station will be called Starlab and it is expected to become operational by 2027.
In addition, we are already witnessing a number of projects aimed at colonizing the Moon. Achieving it will require the construction of a new space station in the orbit of the Moon called GATEWAY. It would be the necessary trampoline to create human settlements on the Moon’s surface and, maybe one day, Mars too.
Naturally, its cost would be gigantic, and the international community that pays for it will not want to keep paying for the other ‘home’ the ISS. In fact, there are talks about putting an end to the ISS before 2030. It is an infrastructure that is already there and could continue being used as a solution for the increasing demand of space tourists.
Logically, a number of issues would have to be addressed before that, including its aging structure, who will bear its maintenance costs, who would operate it, the implementation of regulations, etc. It has cost too much money and effort to dismantle it and allow that great enterprise that has been so significant for humans and our knowledge to fade away. It is certain that, if the business opportunities are interesting, investors will appear.
In this incipient stage when space tourism is becoming commonplace, it is understandable to see opposing views on the matter. There are many interrelated aspects to consider, and there are objective, well-founded criteria to be either for or against it. And this comes as no surprise.
There is no Planet B"
The least we could expect and hope is for the need to protect the planet to become deeply rooted in humans, and that it helps us gain awareness at a global and international level about the fragility of our planet Earth, which is as wonderful as vulnerable, and, for now, the only planet that is suitable for human life.
It is certain that other options will continue to emerge out of the imagination and the will to conquer space. Space tourism is, maybe, the last ‘benefit’ that it has yet to offer us.

A controversial type of tourism

The emergence of space tourism has been surrounded by controversy, largely due to its exclusive nature, because of the significant resources that it requires. In this incipient stage when space tourism is becoming commonplace, it is understandable to see opposing views on the matter. There are many interrelated aspects to consider, and there are objective, well-founded criteria to be either for or against it. The least we could expect and hope is for the need to protect the planet to become deeply rooted in humans, and that this controversy helps us gain awareness at a global level about its fragility, it being as wonderful as vulnerable, and, for now, the only planet that is suitable for human life. There is no Planet B.

  Text: Francisco Lechón and José Antonio García


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