Spaceport Associates

Commercial Space Exploration and Space Transportation

Space Tourism Mini-Tutorial

 Q1. When will space tourism be available?

It’s available now. But you have to get it from Russia. From about 2018 it will be available from the US too.

 Q2. What kinds of space trip are available?

Orbital space tourism takes you around the Earth every 90 minute orbit. At present this is available from Russia, but the opportunities are rare. Sub-orbital space tourism will be available from the US, taking passengers straight up beyond 62 miles, providing a short period of weightlessness, before returning them to the spaceport. Soon, thousands of tourists will be able to go into space in this way.

 Q3. What is meant by "sub-orbital" and "orbital"?

In both kinds of space tourism, the 62 mile "boundary" of space is exceeded. In orbital spaceflight the altitude may be around 200 miles. The main difference, however, is that once in orbit an orbital spacecraft remains at that altitude, travels at 17,500 miles per hour and circles the Earth every 90 minutes; the sub-orbital flight, however goes straight up and down and only remains outside the atmosphere for a few minutes.

 Q4. How long can you stay up there?

A typical sub-orbital flight will take about an hour, with the period above the atmosphere being of the order of ten minutes. An orbital flight can remain almost indefinitely in space, but in practice most orbital space tourism flights last about two weeks before re-entry.

Mike Melvill with SpaceShipOne after flying it into space in 2004

 Q5. How far up is outer space?

It’s rather close. There is no actual definite boundary to the Earth’s atmosphere; it merely gets thinner with altitude, but the internationally recognized altitude to qualify for the term "astronaut" has been accepted as 62 miles or 100 km. In the US, a lower limit of 50 miles was adopted by the USAF for its own pioneer airmen who were flying X-Planes such as the X-15.

 Q6. Is the trip dangerous?

It is not without risk to venture into space. As with the early days of aviation, several people have lost their lives in the early pursuit of spaceflight, all of them government astronauts. In 2014, one of the test pilots for the Virgin Galactic SS2 spacecraft lost his life while conducting a test flight, and his fellow pilot received severe injuries. Now that over 50 years have passed since the dawn of the space age, many lessons have been learned to improve safety, so that by 2016 it is expected to be considered safe enough to offer to the public. But, as with other potentially risky sports such as sky diving, bungee jumping, skiing and scuba diving, or, even riding roller coasters, it is never totally risk-free.

 Q7. How much does it cost?

Orbital space tourism currently costs over $30M for a two week experience, but the flight opportunities are rare (only about 1 per year, and none at all since 2009 because all the rides are needed by government astronauts). The initial sub-orbital space tourism flights, from Virgin Galactic, will cost about $200,000 to include several days of training at the spaceport leading up to the actual spaceflight experience on the final day. Some other potential sub-orbital operators, such as XCOR, are quoting prices of $100,000 and less.

 Q8. How much training is needed?

Training for orbital space tourism flights currently takes at least 6 months and is conducted in Russia, but it is hoped that this time period can be reduced once a US-based orbital space tourism experience can be provided. Sub-orbital spaceflight training requires less than a week.

 Q9. Don’t you have to be really fit to go into space?

The fitness standards for space tourists, especially for sub-orbital spaceflights, are much less than for government astronauts. You don’t have to be Superman..or Wonderwoman. However, there will be some medical screening to ensure that all selected tourists will be able to enjoy their experience. The exact screening approach is still being developed.

 Q10. What companies are offering space tourism experiences?

Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and XCOR may start offering flights by about 2018. Orbital flights are already offered by Russian government agencies, and can be arranged by US travel agencies such as Incredible Adventures and Space Adventures. Eventually they will also be provided by US operators such as SpaceX and Stratolaunch

@Spaceport America

Derek Webber at Spaceport America in New Mexico in 2010

 Q11. Where are the spaceports?

The Russian orbital flights currently take place using the Soyuz launch vehicle from Baikonur in Kazahkstan, and may also eventually take place from Kourou in French Guiana. Virgin Galactic will test-fly its sub-orbital trips initially from Mojave, California, and later move to Spaceport America in New Mexico. They are also considering launches from a range of other countries, including Sweden and Australia and some XCOR flights will be launched from Curacao in the Caribbean. There are also many proposed spaceports across the US, such as in Oklahoma, that may develop as the space tourism industry emerges.

 Q12. What do you do when up there?

Sub-orbital flights provide a relatively limited amount of time in space in which to experience the wonderment of zero-g, take photographs of the curved horizon set against the blackness of space, and marvel at the details of the Earth far below. In the case of orbital flights, then there is generally a week or two in which to take in the experience. With a complete circuit of the Earth every 90 minutes, the orbital space tourist can witness 16 sunrises and sunsets each day, and eventually fly over most of the territory on the planet (depending on the precise orbit chosen). Imagine looking down at your home town, or Paris, or New York, or the Grand Canyon from space!

 Q13. Will there be space hotels?

Yes. In fact there are already two prototype hotels in orbit, being tested by Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada, USA. Other companies, such as Galactic Suites based in Spain, are also proposing orbital space hotels. Meanwhile, all of the orbital space tourists to date have gone to the government space station laboratories, such as Mir or the ISS, for their stay.

 Q14. How do you eat/drink/go to the bathroom when in space?

Because of the limited duration of sub-orbital space flights, only orbital space tourists will seriously need to consider this, and it will be covered in their training. However, because of the potential impact on fellow travelers, it is safe to say here that the answer to all three parts of this question is "carefully"!

 Q15. Does NASA check out the spaceships?

The Soyuz spacecraft used for orbital spaceflight were designed and built in Russia. The spacecraft being developed for sub-orbital space tourism, such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, have all been developed as commercial ventures. The US government department that does have oversight for regulation of this industry is the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. (FAA-AST) Full advantage is taken, in drafting the regulations, of NASA’s unsurpassed space travel expertise.

 Q16. What government regulations cover space tourism?

There are some international laws that govern use of outer space in general. In addition, at the US Federal level, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA) of 2004 sets out the regulatory framework for space tourism operations, including licenses and permits. The main focus of the US legislation is to protect the uninvolved public, and ensure that those who want to become space tourists are fully informed of the risks, and sign indemnification documents accordingly. The regulations also contain guidelines on crew training, and procedures to enable the flight testing to take place, etc.

 Q17. What are the views like?

From the top of the trajectory of a sub-orbital spaceflight, it is possible to see 700 miles in all directions. At 62 miles altitude, you look down on cloud tops that are nearly 60 miles below, with the Earth itself beneath. The horizon is curved. The sky is black, even at midday. You can see just how relatively thin the region occupied by the Earth’s atmosphere is. The precise views, of course, will depend on the geographic location of the launching spaceport, and the kind of cloud cover at the time of flight. From orbit at 200 miles, you can see to a range of 1,200 miles, and can eventually look down from this moving vantage point on all the features and cities of the globe through time on a succession of orbits, both by day and by night.

 Q18. Will it be uncomfortable, or scary?

Is it uncomfortable or scary to go on a big rollercoaster? Some would say yes, and that is a big part of their reason for going! Soyuz orbital flights provide very cramped accommodation until the passengers reach their orbital destination of the space station or hotel, where they can stretch out. All space flights involve periods of high g-forces during launch and landing, and zero-g once in space. The actual amounts of these g-forces, and their duration, vary with the specific spacecraft, with the most benign experiences being associated with the sub-orbital craft.

Spaceship Two

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suspended beneath its mothercraft WhiteKnightTwo

 Q19. Can I go up with friends?

At present, for the orbital flights, only one space tourist can be flown at a time. With the onset of sub-orbital space tourism, however, around 6 to 8 tourists will be flown at a time, and your travel agent will be able to make arrangements to ensure that you and your friends can go on the same flight. The company XCOR is developing the Lynx, which will carry only one passenger to about 60km on a parabolic lob. The passenger will sit right alongside the pilot of the craft. Just imagine that view!

 Q20. Can kids go?

There are no regulations at present that have any age restrictions, whether for too young or for too old. There will be minor adaptations of space hardware and procedures to make it possible for kids to fly safely into space.

 Q21. What about folk with disabilities?

Weightlessness is a benign environment for folk with missing limbs. The famous British physicist Steven Hawking, who has the debilitating condition of motor neuron disease, happily undertook several zero-g flights in a training aircraft and hopes to go into space when Virgin Galactic starts to offer services.

 Q22. Do we wear spacesuits?

For orbital spaceflight, a Russian space suit is used. For sub-orbital space travel this is not specified in the regulations at present, and each operator is still evaluating its requirements.

 Q23. What was the X-Prize?

Back in 2004, a competition was held to see who could come up with the first spacecraft built without government funding, and capable of going into space twice within a two week period carrying a pilot and the equivalent of 2 passengers. The $10M Ansari X-Prize was won by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, flown out of Mojave, California, and this became the model for the developing sub-orbital space tourism industry. Where is SpaceShipOne now? It is in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, alongside other famous spacecraft like Apollo 11.

 Q24. Is space tourism a good business proposition?

Some very credible survey and forecasting work has established that there is a huge yearning for space tourism, even at the high initial prices, (see eg the Futron/Zogby study report, and The Adventurers’ Survey, both available from this website). It is estimated that space tourism will be a $ Billion industry by 2020. Indications are that up to 15,000 tourists a year will each pay $100,000 for a sub-orbital spaceflight experience. Some work was published in 2011 and was conducted by EADS/IPSOS which indicated an even larger potential market of 43,000 passengers per year for the eventual sub-orbital space tourism demand. In 2012, the consulting firm Tauri Group produced some new demand forecasts in conjunction with Spaceport Florida and supported by the FAA-AST (report available Tauri website), and they represent the best available current knowledge on the subject, at least regarding sub-orbital short-term forecasts.

 Q25. Are there enough wealthy people to provide the customers?

Clearly, only multi-millionaires can afford the current price of a ticket for orbital space flight. There are currently more than 1,000 billionaires in the world. A potential sub-orbital tourist needs much less assets in order to be able to afford to undertake the trip. For comparison, there are some 30 million millionaires in the world today.

 Q26. Isn’t space tourism an anti-social activity?

Space tourism is of the very essence of what it is to be American, in that it is designed for "the pursuit of Happiness", and involves taking risks, pushing back boundaries, and making a buck in the process. Apart from the economic and employment benefits, there are two other immense social benefits that will come from the creation of this new industry. First is the profound change that comes to all who see the Earth from space. They report that the space experience, like no other, produces an awareness of the fragility of our condition on the planet Earth, and the need to conserve its resources. Only 500 people went into space in the first half-century of the space age. Space tourism makes it possible from now on for thousands of people to enjoy that experience each year. Secondly, space tourism provides the need for rapid turnaround of space vehicles. New vehicles are being developed that will convert the process of getting into space into more of an airline-like operation. When this has happened, this will mean that the price of getting into space has been reduced by orders of magnitude, the reliability will have improved likewise, and all kinds of future space payloads will benefit thereby. Space tourism may even help pay for future space exploration initiatives beyond the Earth, when governments have budget constraints (see eg references on p 64, p 65 of Buzz Aldrin’s new book Mission to Mars.)

 Q27. I don’t have $30M, or even $100,000. How can I experience space tourism?

There are cheaper alternatives. While you save up for the full space experience you might consider taking a Zero-g flight in an aircraft flying a parabolic profile. Prices are only a few thousand dollars. Of course, there are also space museums to visit, and they are often free!

 Q28. How can I sign up to go?

Send us an email indicating your interest, and we will set things in motion for you.

 Q29.What is "Gateway Earth"?

Gateway Earth”, amongst other things, is a proposed new destination for space tourists beyond Low Earth Orbit. It would be located in Geostationary Orbit, which is at 36,000 km (or 22,000 miles) in an equatorial orbit. From this vantage point, space tourists would be able to see almost an entire hemisphere of the Earth at a time. “Gateway Earth” would also have a governmental part, and so the space tourists using the hotel would be able to watch the governmental astronauts doing their work at the outpost. At this location, the occupants would be very near the edge of Earth’s “gravity well” and so ongoing flights to and from interplanetary destinations would use “Gateway Earth” as their start and end-point. Future astronauts returning from a trip to Mars would regard “Gateway Earth” as their home port, and maybe would share their tales of discovery with the space tourist occupants before continuing back down to Earth’s surface.

 More questions?

If you have further questions, then email us directly at DWspace@aol.com, stating your question and return address, and we will try to help you, and might even include your question here on the website.