Current Market Outlook for Space Business of Space Tourism
Current Market Outlook for Space Business of Space Tourism
This report covers some potential obstacles countries and companies may face when developing space tourism programs. The biggest hurdle will be the technology; companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Virgin Galactic have good designs, but making those designs may prove to be more difficult. Another big issue that needs to be addressed is International Space Law. Many of the treaties were written at the beginning of the space race and only apply to trained astronauts. There will need to be new or revised treaties to cover the limits of private companies and the civilians they transport to space. The third issue covered is the safety and ethics of sending humans to space for a profit. Trained astronauts go through extensive programs to ensure they are ready for the elements of space. Proper measures will need to be taken to make sure civilians will have a safe and enjoyable trip. All of these topics are addressed in detail in this report; in the end however, it is evident that a few companies are on the right path to sending tourists to space.
For centuries, the idea of space has intrigued scientists and engineers who constantly searched for ways to learn more and eventually get there. In 1961, during the heart of the Cold War, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first person in space. Ever since that first major accomplishment, space agencies around the world have tried to push the limits of both the human body and the rapidly advancing technology (National Geographic, 2014). The United States and Russia have continuously been key figures in the space race and combined they have achieved many spectacular feats.
Arguably the most impressive accomplishment in space has been the launch of the International Space Station (ISS), which was launched on October 31, 2000. The ISS serves as both an orbiting laboratory and a spaceport for many different aircraft. Its length and width is about the size of a football field and since its launch there have been 215 individuals to visit the space station (NASA, 2014). Most of these visitors have been experienced astronauts and scientists to conduct experiments and space walks, but recently businesses have started researching the possibility of sending civilians into low earth orbit or even having them tour the space station.
A major obstacle of sending untrained civilians, as opposed to experienced astronauts, is developing a set of international space laws and making sure that both the equipment and travelers are safe throughout the entire experience. International space law first began appearing with the start of the space race, but none of the treaties pertained to commercial space missions. There will also need to be a higher level of safety procedures taken in order to prevent lawsuits.
There are currently three major companies involved in the space tourism market. Boeing, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic are all taking a different approach to developing the best design and technology in the industry.
International Space Law
The launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union in 1957 sparked the creation of an international space law. The space law emerged a body within the international law and it has continued to grow as the technology and accomplishments become more advanced. “There is now a substantial body of international and domestic law principles dealing with, but not all aspects of the use and exploration of outer space” (Freeland, 2005). The majority of the regulations are derived from five main multilateral treaties that have been passed by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).
The first treaty is called, “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” or “The Outer Space Treaty.” This treaty serves and the foundation for international space law and it emphasizes that the use of outer space should benefit all countries and should be free for exploration by any country. It also establishes that, “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty” (Office for Outer Space Affairs, 2014). The second is the “Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space,” or “The Rescue Agreement.” It builds off the first treaty and ensures that any country in need of assistance may request help from other countries in retrieving astronauts or objects that return to Earth outside the territory of their state. The next is the “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects,” or the “Liability Convention.” This agreement states that any country that launches into space will be completely liable for any damage caused while in space and provides the necessary steps to take to settle a claim. The fourth treaty is officially the “Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space,” and is also known as the “Registration Convention.” This convention requires that any country participating in space launches must furnish to the United Nations details of their launch. This information has been logged since 1962 and records information such as the launching country, a registration number, date and location of the launch, some orbital parameters, and the general function of the space object (Office for Outer Space Affairs, 2014). The last of the main treaties is the “Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” or the “Moon Agreement.” This agreement emphasizes that the Moon and other celestial bodies shall solely be used for peaceful purposes and their environments should never be disturbed. The five multilateral treaties were very effective at the start of space exploration. Now that space travel for recreation is tangible, however, it calls for a more advanced set of laws to make clear the limitations of countries and their businesses when taking civilians to outer space.
As the technology continues to advance, so must the insurance policies for both the companies and the participants. One complex aspect of space tourism is the delineation between air space and outer space. Some companies envision sending passengers into low earth orbit, which is between 100 and 1240 miles above sea level. That distinction is difficult, yet crucial, to make when sending untrained, paying individuals into a new “frontier.” The rate at which necessary changes are made to the international space law and insurance policies will determine when the masses will be able to enjoy space travel.
Although it is still unclear as to the legal distinction between where air travel ends and space travel begins, it is important to define both “space tourism” and “space tourist.” The definition of space tourism is “any commercial activity offering customers direct or indirect experience with space travel and a space tourist is someone who tours or travels into, to, or through space or to a celestial body for pleasure and/or recreation” (Freeland, 2005). Since companies and countries are still in the testing phase of space travel, there have been few restrictions in regard to placing a number on the altitude of space. This is not an extremely pressing issue, but as companies get closer to launching customers into space it will be more of a priority.
One aspect of the international space law that has created no confusion is the “Outer Space Treaty,” which ensures that outer space cannot be claimed by any country. This is evident because “the first instruments that men sent into outer space traversed the air space of States and circled above them in outer space, yet the launching States sought no permission nor did the other States protest” (Freeland, 2005). Both the United States and Soviet Union had spacecraft over each other’s country on Earth, but it never became an issue. This is good news for the future of space tourism because it suggests that outer space will be completely available for tourist activities without military or intergovernmental conflict. This “freedom” in outer space is unique, because air space is considered to belong to the country over which an aircraft is flying. This will lead to far fewer conflicts between countries over who owns portions of outer space.
An important question being addressed is whether international space law should apply to space tourism, or if it should solely pertain to military and government operations. The overall consensus is that the space law should apply to space tourism, but the manner in which it is implemented within the current legal principles is more complex.
Since space tourism was an unthinkable feat when the multilateral space treaties were approved, there is no reference to space travel for recreational purposes. There are, however, many similarities between the existing resolutions and the soon-to-be space tourist. The most significant similarity is that anyone, whether they are an astronaut or a company sending passengers, traveling to outer space is considered an “envoy of mankind” (Freeland, 2005). In other words, any accomplishment is not done for personal gain; rather it is done for the improvement of mankind as a whole. There is also wording in the “Rescue Agreement” that would make paying passengers personnel of a spacecraft and therefore, included in the required assistance in the occurrence of an accident.
Once all the laws have been approved and tourists are launched into outer space, there has been question as to what activities are appropriate and which should be restricted. Since space missions and space travel are intended to advance the interest of mankind, it is very controversial as to whether casinos, billboards, or brothels would be allowed in such an environment. As of now, a stay aboard the ISS by a paying passenger would consist mostly of taking pictures of the view. Other than that, there is not that much to do for a civilian. There would clearly be more money to be made if casinos and similar activities were permitted, but again, that contradicts the current stance that space exploration should benefit all countries.
An unfortunate byproduct of increased traffic to outer space is increased debris. There are currently no restrictions on leaving debris in orbit, but if space travel becomes a luxury of the masses, it could become an issue. There is also the concern that the ocean and marine environment could be disrupted which repeated re-entries into the Earth’s atmosphere. Before any countries start sending passengers to outer space, they should perfect the technology they are using to get there to ensure that both the outer space environment and ocean environment remain as intact as possible. This will have to mean less debris when launching and re-entering. It could potentially delay the start of space tourism, but it must be addressed before it becomes out of control.
Safety, Liability, and Ethics
There have already been several fatalities since the first spacecraft attempted to reach outer space. Most of these involved individuals who were trained and experienced in aviation and space flight. If space tourists and third parties enter this market, the stakes become much higher for companies that put passengers aboard their spacecraft. Safety is already the top priority, but considering “two (of the original five) space shuttles [crashed] after only 113 flights” (Freeland, 2005), there is a lot of room for improvement. And as stated in the “Outer Space Treaty,” even though third parties may be involved in the activities, the liability will still rest with that company’s home country. So there must be tight supervision by countries that have companies desiring to enter the space tourism market. Also, any legal claim by an individual must be handled on a county-to-country basis. The chances of this happening are very unlikely, but these are the precautions that need to be taken in every aspect of the rapidly expanding space tourism industry. Since all of these issues are so complex, it has been advised that it be taken to the international level for lawmaking. There needs to be uniform set of requirements to be met when third parties are sending passengers into outer space, whether they are staying on the ISS or just taking a short, low earth orbit trip.
Along with safety and liability comes an ethical aspect. Debris discarded by spacecraft has already been discussed, but another ethical issue is whether or not the heritage of space should be protected. It generally agreed that the site of the first moon landing should be preserved from damage from anyone, including space tourists. A more complex issue that will need to be addressed in the near future pertains to personal rights of those who end up living in possible colonies on the moon or other celestial objects. For example, if a couple starts their family on an outer space settlement and their kids are born in space, what is there citizenship and what are their personal rights? (Freeland, 2005) These may seem like questions that need to be addressed down the line, but at the current rate of technological advancements the time to start creating international legislation and limitations is now
There are three major companies currently competing to develop launch vehicles that will take passengers into outer space. The Boeing Company (Boeing), Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and Virgin Galactic are all taking a different approach in both design and technology for the launch vehicle. Each of these companies has recently entered into contracts with NASA to send spacecraft to outer space (National Public Radio, 2014).
Boeing recently entered into a $4.2 billion contract with NASA, which will fund the development of their CST-100. The Crew Space Transport or CST “is designed to transport up to seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station” (Boeing, 2014). It is cone-shaped and will likely bring a crew to outer space in 2017. Once it has met all the necessary safety requirements, it will be able to make up to 10 trips carrying either a crew or a mix of a crew and cargo to the International Space Station.
SpaceX crafted Dragon, a launch vehicle of their own, using funds from a NASA contract totaling $2.6 billion. “Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments” (SpaceX, 2014). Although its original function was to carry humans into outer space, it has been primarily transporting cargo, but upon perfection will continue with its objective of sending paying passengers to outer space. Dragon is also a cone-shaped vehicle that stands at 23.6 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. By the time it is completely ready so launch a crew without cargo, it will be able to seat seven passengers just like its competitor, CST-100 from Boeing.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is using their contract with NASA to develop WhiteKnightTwo that will be the carrier aircraft for SpaceShipTwo (Universe Today, 2014). WhiteKnightTwo is the largest aircraft of its kind, which will allow SpaceShipTwo to launch from it from the sky. This method of launching the reusable space plane will greatly reduce the amount of exhaust emitted compared to ground launches. (Virgin Galactic, 2014) The shape of SpaceShipTwo is more like an airplane and has landing gear so it is reusable. Unfortunately, on October 31, 2014, SpaceShipTwo experienced a malfunction it crashed killing one of the pilots and injuring the other. The second SpaceShipTwo is currently being built and Virgin Galactic will continue on its mission to send paying passengers into low earth orbit.
There are currently other companies competing to develop the necessary technology on similar NASA contracts, but three discussed here are projected to get their sooner than the others, with the exceptions of Virgin Galactic’s setback with the crash of SpaceShipTwo.
In conclusion, space agencies have come a long way since the first human was sent into orbit decades ago. The exponential growth in this industry will require expanded laws and limitations to the current international space law. Of course increased safety and legal precautions will be necessary if civilians are going to have the opportunity to experience space flight. Boeing, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic are the main companies already developing the technology required to send passengers to outer space. Although there is a lot of room for improvement, there are plenty of companies willing to take on the challenge of developing the technology that will allow civilian passengers experience the mysterious realm of outer space.