24 November 2017

Off the beaten track


To infinity and beyond
January 2003 12

Okay so you've always wanted to go to space; always wanted to see what the earth looked like for the dark side of the moon. But a report in space.com seems to think that it's going to be a while before you go boldly where only Dennis Tito has gone before.

According to the report, space-tourism companies are finding themselves a tad off orbit, and cash is not the fuel as forthcoming a s it seemed, oh say, 20 years ago.

NASA, the report says, has spent billions to help you reach for the stars, but to no avail. The agency's X-33 crashed and burned and its Space Launch Initiative died a natural death.

But according to space.com, the US Congress, and the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry have promised public space travel.

"While today there is an extremely limited number of people in the world who can afford a $20 million vacation, we should marvel not at the price but at the fact that the demand exists at all," the Commission observed.

"Given what people do spend on vacations and amusement park rides and adventure travel, we have no reason to doubt that the demand will rise without limit as the price drops," explained the Commission's report.

The Commission suggested that space tourism markets might help fund the launch industry through its current market slump. Increased launch demand thanks to space tourism could help drive launch costs down, they concluded, perhaps ultimately support a robust space transportation industry with "airline-like operations."

For that to happen, says space.com, a special breed of rocket is essential: the reusable launch vehicle, or RLV.

"We come down very solidly in favor of RLV as a way of, hopefully, bringing down costs," Commission chairman, Robert Walker, said in the report.

"We think it's the RLV technology that ultimately gives you the opportunity for public space participation," Walker noted.

John Olds, president and CEO of SpaceWorks Engineering, was quoted in the report as saying: "In order to capture a market of any size, ticket prices probably have to fall into the $50,000 to $100,000 range. For a realistic number of passenger seats on a future reusable launch vehicle, say 20, the revenues per flight are less than $2 million. At this number, even the third-generation reusable launch vehicle designs we've looked at have trouble getting their operations and support cost under that."

Olds advises that public space travel might blossom into being if a government entity bankrolled the building of a reusable launch vehicle designed to handle other needs.

So in the end it looks as though few will make like Armstrong and re-live that giant leap for mankind. Looks like Clarke, Asimov and LeGuin are pretty much as good as it gets, for the moment at least.




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