Monday, May 09, 2011

The Growing Space Tourism Industry

Three recent announcements highlight the growing capabilities of the still young, but increasingly vibrant, and fast growing space tourism industry.
Space Adventures modified Soyuz TMA capsule.

They also serve as an introduction to the next Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) meeting on Thursday, May 12th, when Stephanie Anevich, the executive vice-president of Vision 2000 Travel and part of the accredited sales associate (ASA) team for the Virgin Galactic (VG) Space Ship Two suborbital space plane, will talk about some of the more "out of this world" services her firm provides. For more information or to attend the presentation, I'd encourage people to check out the CSCA website.

As for those other three recent announcements, the first was last week, when Virginia based Space Adventures Ltd. issued a statement that it intends to offer trips around the Moon using "modified Russian Soyuz capsules" beginning as early as 2015, at least according to the May 8th, 2011 article "Space Adventures Plans Modified Soyuz Spacecraft for Commercial Flights."

A May 7th, 2011 follow-on story posted on the PC World Geektech blog titled "Take a Trip Around the Moon for Only 150 Million Dollars" stated that the first ticket for the trip had already been sold and more were available.

The Almaz capsule, based on a Russian TKS.
Space Adventures has already launched seven astronaut/ space tourists (including Canadian Guy Laliberté) into orbit for periods of between nine and fifteen days.

That's only two less astronauts than the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) although some of the official Canadian astronauts have gone up more than once and for longer periods.

Of the space tourists, only Charles Simonyi has gone into orbit twice, at least so far. 

The second announcement was of the recent acquisition of four Russian TKS space capsules (intended to be reusable) and two complete, surplus Russian Almaz space stations by Isle of Man based company Excalibur Almaz. According to the May 4th, 2011 article "A look at the Isle of Man's space stations" on the Isle of website, the equipment will be refurbished and eventually launched into orbit as part of the company's long-term business plan to "become the world leader in providing reliable, affordable and routine access to space for exploration and tourism."

The third announcement is of the latest flight test of the New Mexico based Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two suborbital space plane. As posted on the Wired website on May 4th, 2011 under the title "SpaceShipTwo Completes First Feathered Flight" the article stated that:
The team at Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic passed a milestone today with the first feathered flight of Space Ship Two. The flight is the first test of the re-entry configuration for the spaceship and comes as Scaled is in the middle of a busy month of flight testing for the spacecraft.
The re-entry test, undertaken with the wings tilted at a 65% angle upwards towards the fuselage (a configuration called "feathered") is designed to be simpler and less difficult than flying the spaceship straight back into the atmosphere as was done by the X-15 back in the 1960s. This latest test indicates that the craft is nearing the end of testing and will soon be ready to perform suborbital commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two mission profile including "feathered" flight.
Taken together, these three announcements cannot be easily dismissed or ignored by national space agencies like the CSA who have, until recently, possessed an exclusive monopoly on manned space travel. Unfortunately for them, each of these announcements originate from strong, well funded companies with multi-million dollar war chests, existing hardware and exceptional business track records.

According to Stephanie Anevich, thirteen Canadians have already paid deposits on trips into space through Vision 2000 aboard Space Ship Two and there are also inquiries from scientists looking for appropriate platforms for suborbital microgravity research.

Sounding rocket launch in 2005. Obsolete?
That's quite a bit more upcoming flights than the CSA can boast about and the inquiries relating to microgravity research also provides strong evidence that Space Ship Two will likely soon dominate the market presently controlled by suborbital sounding rockets.

This is something I first suggested in my January 11th, 2011 post "The Shrinking Market for Sounding Rockets."

But of course, the official Canadian astronauts are still going into orbit, spending time on the International Space Station (ISS), performing experiments and expected to undergo serious training as a preliminary to each flight so they can't really be compared to simple, paying "passengers" expected to endure only a few minutes of weightlessness before safely returning to Earth.

However, there is only one CSA astronaut presently scheduled for an orbital mission over the next few years and Space Adventures plans to send more than one person just to the Moon in the same period and far more to the ISS.

So while the professional astronaut corps is dwindling, the number of astronaut "tourists" is set to explode over the next few years.

We live in interesting times and anyone who'd like to learn a little more about those times should come to the CSCA meeting on May 12th. 

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