Technology has helped us solve numerous issues that were earlier intractable. But technology is good at creating wants too. The latest one on the list is the want for commercial space trips. The dream of commercial space tourism is finally taking a real shape and the day is not far-away when people other than astronauts will have access to the mysterious realm called space. The aim is to make space more accessible to ordinary people as well as for the researchers to expand their understanding of space by visiting it more frequently.
Though the concept may seem to be freshly envisioned, the Russian Space Agency made a debut in this domain by sending 7 tourists into space back in the early 2000s. However, the agency halted its space tourism operations in 2010.
Currently, numerous private companies have been working on creating reusable space planes and space restaurants. The following are the top companies on the chart:
Headquartered in California, recently, the company released stunning pictures of its spaceplane VSS Unity that can carry 6 passengers and 2 pilots. For $250,000 a passenger will get a view from 60 miles above earth, right near the Karman Line which divides the Earth’s atmosphere and space. The passengers will also be allowed to unbuckle themselves at peak altitude and float in zero gravity. 600 people have already signed up and deposited money for the tour. 400 more have shown interest and made refundable deposits. The trip is expected to last for about 90 minutes. The company has successfully completed 2 human test flights and plans to take founder Richard Branson by the end of 2020 on its first official trip.
Have a look at the exotic interior of the spacecraft:
Owned by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, the company plans to charge between $200,000 and $300,000 for an 11-minute stay in space. The spacecraft New Shephard can take 6 people. The features of the project are similar to that of Virgin Galactic’s. The company has successfully completed tests flights to & fro the Karman line. However, the rollout dates have not been announced yet.
On 31st May SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying two NASA astronauts from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, thus creating a milestone. The 2 astronauts were set to land on the International Space Station (ISS), which they successfully did. This launch marks a significant public private partnership to increase access to space. Under a contract, NASA will open the doors of ISS for such commercial travel. SpaceX also plans on taking people to Mars and the Moon. The company will charge $55 million for 1 ticket to the ISS. So far it has signed 2 non-NASA contracts, one with Axiom Space to send 1 astronaut and 3 tourists and the other with Space Adventures to send 4 tourists for a 3-5 day stay in orbit.
Based in California, the company announced plans to build a space station in orbit which will function as a space hotel where people can stay and experience life in outer space. The Aurora Space Station will be the size of a private jet and will have the capacity to cater to 6 people at a time. Passengers will be taken 200 miles above the Earth’s surface and can stay at the station for a total of 12 days per trip. The company is already collecting $80,000 as a deposit to be on the waiting list. Each trip will cost $9.5 million.
Boeing, the popular aircraft manufacturer, has also entered the race and has designed Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Just like SpaceX it has entered into an agreement with NASA as per which it will deliver crew spaceships to it and in return it will be allowed to sell seats to private travelers, at least one seat on every space mission.
Many companies working on the concept of space travel gives the impression that the industry has a promising future. All these companies have seen a series of delays in introducing their spacecraft to the world. But finally, they are inches away from conducting their first official trip.
But will the customer base be strong enough to cover the huge costs of making these ventures a reality? One thing is absolutely clear, the privilege of going on a space trip will only be available to the ultra-rich and the rich due to the hefty amounts being charged. Even though the competition in this industry will lower down the prices to some extent in the long run, they are not expected to fall much due to the high infrastructure costs. It’s difficult to imagine the middle-class having access to this luxury. The consumer base further reduces because only those who pass the required fitness test and training exercises will be allowed to board the spacecraft.
Although, through all the testing the companies want to make sure that the majority of the risks are eliminated, the possibility of an accident in this industry cannot be completely ruled out. Once space tourism begins, even a single accident will lead to a negative consumer sentiment and reduce the demand, at least in the short run. Afterall, who’ll want to risk their life for a short-lived thrill?
The future is not far when the entire world will stop to watch the first commercial tourist spacecraft being launched into space. Let’s see, who among the above-mentioned giants does it first. Who are you betting on?