Space tourism - from lofty dreams to commercial reality

July 01 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 14 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Space tourism has come a long way in a short time. The idea was just a dream in the 1990s, but recently, tourists have shelled out mega-bucks for a glimpse of the wild blue yonder.

Though only the rich can afford space travel today, experts predict prices will drop with new systems under development. Later this year, Virgin Galactic’s returnable Space-Ship-Two hopes to provide orbital round-trips for $200,000, and one-day, take vacationers to the moon.

By 2030, the Space Elevator, a revolutionary system under development now would climb up a nanotech-ribbon extending 62,000 miles from Earth to space and could transport passengers into the wild blue yonder for as low as $20,000 initially, then prices could drop to the $2,000-per-person range when multiple elevators become available.

As more people become space travelers, they will need a place to stay. Budget Suites of America owner Robert Bigelow has launched the first phase of a human-rated habitat module dubbed Sundancer, to an altitude of 250 nautical miles at an orbital inclination of 40 degrees. Once Sundancer is in position and verified safe, Bigelow will add more sections creating a full-scale lodging/industrial complex as early as the middle of next decade.

Satellite Industry Association President Richard Dalbello says, “Once hotel companies start to build and operate orbital accommodations, they will be endlessly improving them and competing to build more exotic facilities”. We will see hotels that provide normal gravity for rooms, bars, and restaurants; and gravity-free areas for recreation and sports activities. (cont.)

Space projects are already becoming lucrative. According to the Space Foundation, global space activities generated $180 billion in revenues last year, mostly from private satellite launches.

Futon Corp., an aerospace consulting firm, recently found that human suborbital space tourism could become a multi-billion dollar industry by 2020. The firm said that by then, more than 15,000 people a year, mostly vacationers, would take trips into space staying at hotels and visiting attractions such as theme parks and the International Space Station.

At a recent space conference in San Jose, entrepreneurs and scientists floated a host of ideas for other space businesses including shuttle services, moon colonization outfits, and asteroid mining.

Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham talked of mining a giant asteroid expected to pass close by in 2019. Scientists believe this space rock known as A-3554 is full of valuable metals like nickel and platinum and could generate $20 trillion in revenues. Enthusiasts predict asteroid mining will become the largest and most profitable industry in space by mid-century.

Once travel to orbit becomes cheap, more people will visit space. Some for vacations, others to visit friends and relatives in space facilities; and, drawn by astronomical salaries, a few diehards will choose to work in space. Jobs include manufacturing, construction, mining, engineering, and hotel positions.

Will this “magical future” become reality? When yours truly was in high school in the 1940s, I wished that one day I could fly in an airplane, but wondered if it would ever really happen. Yet within one generation, plane trips became routine; and today, more than one billion people fly every year.

Where might space development lead civilization? Positive-thinkers believe that by as early as the middle of the next century, more humans could be living in space than on Earth.

What would be your favorite activity in space?

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Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. While people sometimes underestimate the rate at which certain technologies progress, they seem to be way too optimistic as far as large infrastructure projects are concerned. The later often take much longer and always cost much more then originally estimated.

    Space Elevator in 20 years??? That’s how long it took to complete Boston’s Big Dig. And unlike Space Elevator, Big Dig at this point had all the plans and designs, it didn’t involve any magical new technologies that had to be developed to make it possible, and it had people and money behind it.

    $20 trillion nickel mining operations on an asteroid? Wow, it’s either a lot of nickel or it is some pretty damn expensive nickel, or both. In either case, is there a demand for huge quantities of super expensive space nickel???

    Posted by: johnfrink   July 03, 2008
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  2. Two startups, Michael Laine’s Liftport Group, and Brad Edwards’ Sedco both believe they can turn this audacious space elevator idea into reality by as early as late 2020s at costs ranging from $10-to-20 billion.

    The main forces behind this bold technology include (1), industry recognition of the huge market potential for a cheaper way of getting people and materials into space and (2), expected advances in carbon nanotube production, the critical material needed to construct the ribbon.

    Laine, a guest speaker at a recent Las Vegas Futurist Salon meeting confirmed that his company is on target to complete the project before 2030.

    Space Foundation’s Pullman believes his estimates that asteroid A-3554 could produce $20 trillion in nickel and platinum revenues are correct.

    I guess we won’t know for sure if these projections are accurate until they happen.

    Posted by: futuretalk   July 03, 2008
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  3. Well, Dick, if you are not skeptical at all about the claims those people make, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    The funniest thing is this. To be able to have nickel mining operations on asteroids possible, you need space elevator. To build space elevator you need to make huge advances in nanomaterials. But these very nanomaterials will make many (most?) uses of nickel obsolete.

    Posted by: johnfrink   July 03, 2008
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  4. Who says I’m not skeptical? Remember, I’m just the reporter here.

    Will this future happen? I hope so, but there are no guarantees.

    Posted by: futuretalk   July 03, 2008
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  5. Development of advanced nano-materials will eventually make all uses of nickel obsolete, but that won’t happen in 20 years. Because carbon nanotube is in the spotlight now, there is a lot of development funding centered around it. Carbon nanotube can’t fully replace nickel, becouse carbon nanotube is obviously not a metal.

    Posted by: JHE   July 04, 2008
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