Despite the backlash that space barons like billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have received ever since they visited space, experts agree that it’s only a matter of time (and resources) before low-Earth orbit (LEO) opens up for tourism. The target market exists, but facilities and modes of transport will take time before large-scale operations occur.
Space tourism context
In July 2021, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson became the first billionaire to travel to space. Mere days later, a rocket by Virgin’s main competitor, Blue Origin, carried Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to space. The events were an interesting crossroads of competition, triumph, inspiration, and, most importantly, contempt. While space tourism players were celebrating these milestones, regular citizens of planet Earth were furious about the seemingly shameless escapism and bragging rights. The sentiment was further fuelled by extreme weather caused by climate change and the widening wealth gap between the 99 and the 1 percent. Nonetheless, business analysts agree that these two space baron flights signal the beginning of rapid developments in space tourism infrastructure and logistics.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been focusing on logistics, receiving certification from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2020 for crew transportation. This milestone marks the first time a private company has been authorized to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This development means that commercial space flight geared for space tourism is now more possible than ever. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have received a license for passenger space travel from the US Federal Aviation Administration and have already started ticket sales. Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceflight begins at $450,000 USD, while Blue Origin has not released a price list. Nonetheless, there are now apparently hundreds on the waitlist, according to the New York Times.
Space tourism infrastructures are in the works. In April 2022, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully carried a former NASA astronaut and three wealthy civilians into space on the first commercial flight headed to ISS. It is hoped that with these missions, there will eventually be a privately operated space lab. The recent launch was SpaceX’s sixth piloted Crew Dragon flight. This flight is the second time a purely commercial mission has made it to orbit, with privately financed Inspiration4 being the first in September 2021. Furthermore, this journey marks the first ever all-commercial trip to the ISS. The flight was funded by Axiom Space, a firm with ties to the aerospace sector, and is collaborating with NASA to deploy commercial space station modules attached to the ISS. By 2030, commercial operators will operate the Axiom modules as an independent space station when the ISS is retired.
In anticipation of space tourism’s eventual commercialization, space station operator Orbital Assembly announced its plans to build the first luxury space hotel in 2025. The hotel is expected to be functional as early as 2027. The lodging is truly space-age, with each room’s pod on a rotating Ferris wheel-looking device. In addition to the standard hotel amenities like a health spa and gym, guests can enjoy a movie theater, unique restaurants, libraries, and concert venues. The hotel is expected to be in LEO, offering stunning views of the planet below. The establishment will have lounges and bars where guests can enjoy the view and rooms accommodating up to 400 people. Additional necessities, such as crew quarters, water, air, and power systems, will also take up a portion of the space facility. The Voyager Station will orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, using the artificial gravity produced by the rotation.
Implications of space tourism
Wider implications of space tourism may include:
- More companies entering the space tourism sector and applying for certification from the FAA and NASA.
- Increased research in food production and space cuisine as businesses attempt to be the first to operate in the luxury space dining industry.
- Increased investment in developing space tourism amenities and facilities such as exclusive resorts and clubs.●Further regulations on classifying non-government astronauts and certifying commercial space flight pilots.
- Flight schools offering commercial space training as airline pilots transition to the potentially lucrative space passenger sector.
Questions to comment on
- How will space tourism further fuel debates on income inequality and climate change?
- What are other risks or benefits of space tourism?