Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

To Infinity and Beyond: Mars, the new frontier of the 21st Century

By Daniel OudolskyPublished October 11, 2015

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Private Space Travel, space stations and asteroid mining stations- these concepts still sound very alien to us in 2015. For the most of the world population, space travel has always been seen as experience only afforded by the super-wealthy and bourgeois, paying exorbitant large amounts of sum for short trips on Russian rockets to the ISS. In response to this growing demand for private-sector travels to space tourism, a small but lucrative niche of firms have arisen to cater such needs
By Daniel Oudolsky, 10/11/15

Private Space Travel, space stations and asteroid mining stations- these concepts still sound very alien to us in 2015. For the most of the world population, space travel has always been seen as experience only afforded by the super-wealthy and bourgeois, paying exorbitant large amounts of sum for short trips on Russian rockets to the ISS. In response to this growing demand for private-sector travels to space tourism, a small but lucrative niche of firms have arisen to cater such needs
 
This industry of "space tourism", both into deep orbit and suborbital ranges is an integral part of this emerging private-sector space tourism industry. Currently, wealthy tech moguls and philanthropists such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk Richard Branson and Paul Allen have injected much capital into small, entrepreneurial private-sector firms that cater to such clients. More than a hundred years ago, the wealthy philanthropists of the Gilded Age such as John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan spent millions of dollars on building universities and libraries that but today's moguls are spending millions on technologies that will bring mankind into the solar system.
 
Whilst many people in the popular scientific discourse may see deep-space flights as an impossibility in our own lifetime, it's another form of space travel- suborbital space rocket flights- that may be coming soon. Suborbital flights are defined as flights that are above 50 km of the Earth's surface. Without going into deep orbit, the space tourists that are on these flights will not only be able to experience the wonders of zero-G weightlessness, but they will also be able to view Earth from above space, and stare into the cosmos- thus experiencing the profound psychological affect known as the "Overview" Effect.
 
Virgin Galactic, a spin off from Richard Branson's Virgin group, is building a new copy of the Space Ship Two (SS2) design after the first one crashed near Mojave California last year killing one crew member and injuring the other. An investigation by the NTSB determined that the co-pilot triggered the ‘feathering' mechanism too soon. This mechanism, which slows down the rocket-plane, is the key to the successful operation of the vehicle. What this mechanism does is that it flips the twin tails of the spacecraft upright and thus drastically reduces the speed of the vehicle until the tails can be safely re-extended for a controlled landing. Such an invention like this did away with the need for heat shielding or other such difficult re-entry maneuvers, making commercial space travel much less riskier and more consumer-friendly, whilst also reducing the weight of the spacecraft thus making the system a viable option. Once in operation, Space Ship Two will carry two pilots, and six passengers and fly roughly 40,000 feet into the air, releasing the spacecraft which will then glide its way back to Earth. During this time, the passengers will experience several minutes of weightlessness, in addition to being able to look out into the cosmos, before coming back to Earth. 700 customers have already reserved slots for SS2 rides into space, which will be flying out of the SpacePort America in Las Crusas, Mexico.

Another competitor- Xcor Aersopace- is currently working in their Lynx rocket plane. This spacecraft is designed to take off from a runaway and blast off to 200,000 ft. altitude, before slowly falling back down to Earth. Unlike the Virgin Galactic SS2, the Lynx aircraft will only carry a pilot and one paying passenger- the cost is less than $100,000 for a single trip. Each flight will carry a pilot and one paying passenger who will be charged a little less than $100, 000 for the trip. Xcor soon hopes to be able to fly more than twice daily. Once in full operation, Xcor hopes to fly customers from spaceports around the globe

Both aerospace firms expect to roll out their new rocket-planes in the first quarter of 2016 and to begin beta flight tests soon afterwards. If all goes well, by the 2017 calendar year- one or both of these companies will be getting ready to start flying paying customers. The 2010's decades have demonstrated that this is a major decade for the development of space tourism that has survived the Great Recession, emerging as boutique aerospace firms that are gradually paying an important major role.  If the US and the world economy on a whole continues to grow within the next few years, the subsequent demand for commercial space tourism will increase as well. With the increased demand, commercial space travel will become more commercially viable and scientifically developed as further investments are poured into it.