Space Tourism and Commercial Space Travel
Paramount Business Jets is excited about the future of air travel and is always looking for innovative ideas to propel the industry forward. With the advent of faster motors and new technology, private transportation will soon reach out beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and into space. The beginning phase of this fascinating new age of travel is already underway. Paramount Business Jets is currently researching the first stage of this revolutionary industry – Space Tourism.
Humans have dreamed of traveling into space for hundreds of years. However, it was not until the late Twentieth Century that humans embarked on our journey above the Earth. We are still researching and testing new ways to make outer space more accessible to everyone but the technology is close to being refined and ready. Very soon, people will be able to launch into outer space without the need to be selected as a NASA Astronaut.
The first space tourist was multi-millionaire Dennis Tito, who spent $20 Million for a trip to the International Space Station in 2001. Tito traveled aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule which was launched by an American company, Space Adventures, Ltd. Since then, several other wealthy clients have gone for trips in space but the cost for a flight is too high to make space tourism mainstream – that is, until now.
Several companies are hard at work to develop vehicles that can bring people into space for a fraction of the current price. Tickets cost anywhere from $95,000 to $200,000 for one of these flights and the cost is expected to drop to $20,000 within the first few years of service. This will allow space flight to be more accessible and give everyone a chance for exciting, weightless adventure out into space.
A Brief History of Space Travel
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, was established on July 29, 1958 by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. NASA is an agency of the US government and is responsible for the nation’s space program and aeronautics research. The administration was developed soon after the Russians launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into orbit on October 4, 1957. This began the “Space Race” between Russia and the United States.
NASA’s main technology contributor at that time was from rocket equipment captured from Germans after World War II. Werhner von Braun, regarded as the father of the US space program, led the initial research for NASA. Project Mercury was NASA’s first plan for human space exploration. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard launched skyward in a Mercury rocket and became the first American astronaut. Next, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in his Friendship 7 space capsule.
Following the success of the Mercury missions, NASA began the Gemini Project, which was to conduct experiments and see if humans could endure long durations in space. The Gemini missions provided the groundwork for astronauts to reach the moon. Gemini missions included docking with other spacecraft while in orbit, receiving medical data from astronauts in a weightless environment, and proving that lengthy space flights were possible for humans.
Perhaps the most ambitious project of NASA and one of the biggest accomplishments for humanity was the Apollo Project, which sent American astronauts to land on the moon. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 and its astronauts landed on the lunar surface. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon, and only twelve people have ever set footprints into the lunar soil. After several missions on the moon, NASA stopped sending astronauts and no one has returned to the moon since 1972.
All of NASA’s space flights are launched from Kennedy Space Center, a facility developed on Merrit Island on the east coast of Florida. The location was chosen because it was close to the equator and was on the Atlantic Ocean. In order to reach orbit, a rocket must travel at over 17,000 miles per hour. Because the Earth spins fastest at the equator, NASA could minimize the amount of thrust needed to put a rocket into orbit if its launch facility was close to the equator. Rockets launch along an eastern course with the rotation of the Earth, which enables the rocket to take advantage of the equator’s speed. The spacecraft launch over the ocean because it allows for recovery of rocket boosters and fuel tanks and minimizes the risk to civilians on land if a problem occurs.
After the Apollo missions were halted, NASA began to focus on a cost-effective way to bring astronauts into space to perform experiments and launch or repair satellites in orbit. NASA developed the Space Shuttle, a reusable vehicle that could carry a larger crew into space. The Shuttle is comprised of three main components: the External Fuel Tank, Solid Rocket Boosters, and the Orbiter.
The Space Shuttle
The External Fuel Tank contains the fuel used to propel the ship into orbit, and is the largest component of the Shuttle. The tanks were manufactured by a Lockheed Martin plant in New Orleans, Louisiana and are transported to the launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center by barge. The fuel that the rocket motors burn is a mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Originally, the orange-colored fuel tanks were painted white in order to prevent solar heating and boil-off of the liquid fuel. However, these problems were found to be insignificant and Lockheed Martin stopped painting the outer foam of the External Fuel Tank, which saved about 600 pounds of weight from the paint alone. NASA performed an evaluation to determine how much money it costs to launch a payload into space, and found that the price was almost $5,000 per pound. This means that leaving the tank unpainted saved roughly $3 Million per launch. Each shuttle launch has been averaged to cost approximately $450 Million.
The Solid Rocket Boosters, or SRBs, are the two slender white rockets attached on both sides of the External Fuel Tank. These rockets provide the shuttle with the thrust needed to reach orbit. Each rocket provides about 2.8 Million pounds of thrust, which later increases to 3.1 Million pounds shortly after liftoff. After the shuttle reaches an altitude of 150,000 feet, or approximately 28 miles, the boosters separate from the shuttle, deploy parachutes, and land in the Atlantic Ocean to be picked up and refurbished for use on other Space Shuttle flights.
The Orbiter, which is commonly mistaken as the Space Shuttle, is the aircraft-like ship that transports the crew and payload into orbit. The Space Shuttle is in fact the collection of the External Fuel Tank, Solid Rocket Boosters, and Orbiter, and is known as the Space Transportation System, or STS. The Orbiter is usually carries a crew of five to seven astronauts into space and most current missions take the Orbiter to dock with the International Space Station. Upon reentry into the atmosphere, the Orbiter uses a series of S-turns to slow the craft down and then makes and unpowered landing, just like a glider.
There have been six Orbiters that were built for NASA at a cost of approximately $1.7 Billion each: Enterprise, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour, and Columbia. Challenger and Columbia were unfortunately destroyed in accidents in 1986 and 2003, respectively. Challenger was destroyed shortly after liftoff and Columbia broke apart during reentry into the atmosphere. Fourteen astronauts lost their lives in the tragedies. Endeavour was constructed to replace the Challenger orbiter. Enterprise was built to test landing procedures and was never meant for space flight. It is currently on display at the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex at Dulles Airport in Virginia. The remaining Orbiters are due to be retired in 2010.
Types of Space Tourism
Until now, the only way a tourist, or “space participant,” has gone into space is through the ultra-expensive route of paying for a ride on a Russian Soyuz capsule. These flights take the participant to the International Space Station, where they spend about a week floating in the microgravity of space. The International Space Station orbits at an altitude of about 200 miles above the Earth’s surface and the client can choose to just look around and watch the crew or actually perform his or her own experiments in space, like space participant Gregory Olson, who ran his own crystal-growing experiments on the ISS.
The newest type of space tourism will take passengers on a ride into space but not to dock with a space station in orbit above the planet. The ride in a space ship will only take a few hours and the total time in space will be about five minutes. A rocket will carry the passengers and crew to an altitude of over 62 miles above the surface, which marks the boundary of space. From this height, viewers are actually able to see the curve of the Earth and a vast depth of stars beyond the windows of the craft.
The future of space tourism looks toward traveling to the moon, and eventually, space hotels in orbit, on the moon, and even on other planets.
Suborbital Flights and the International Space Station
Suborbital flights will soon be the most inexpensive way to get into space. A suborbital flight will take passengers to an altitude of over 62 miles above the Earth’s surface. This height marks the boundary of space. From this elevation, participants will be able to look out of their windows into the blackness of space and even see the curvature of the Earth. At the apogee, or very top of the flight path, passengers will begin to feel the weightlessness of space as they slowly begin to drift from their seats. When it is safe, the crew will allow participants to unbuckle their safety harnesses and float about the cabin of the craft. After a few minutes of weightlessness, the crew will ask participants to return to their seats for the return trip to the Earth’s surface.
As of now, there have not been any commercial suborbital flights. The company closest to their first commercial space flight is Virgin Galactic, which plans to begin flying customers in 2011. As long as a participant can pass minimal health checks and light physical training, they will be allowed to purchase a seat on a suborbital flight. The suborbital flights will be able to carry a small load of passengers, ranging from two to eight depending on the craft.
Trips to a space station, or a facility designed for humans to live in space for long periods of time, will be much more expensive than suborbital flights but will allow a much longer period of time in space. The International Space Station, or ISS, orbits the Earth at roughly 200 miles above the surface of the planet, in what is considered Low Earth Orbit, or LEO. While in orbit, it travels at approximately 17,000 miles per hour and makes about 16 revolutions around the Earth each day. The ISS is currently the largest manmade satellite in orbit and the biggest ever made. It is designed to be built in many separate sections because it is woo big to be launched as one single piece. This modular design is being constructed with the collaboration of several nations, including the United States, Canada, Russia, ten countries of the European Space Agency, and several others. The first pieces were brought up by the Space Shuttle in 1998 and the Station should be fully completed in 2011. Currently, it is able to carry a capacity of six crew members who spend several months aboard the station before rotating out with another crewmember and returning to Earth. So far, the space station has been visited by astronauts from sixteen different nations.
The ISS is primarily used for research and long-term studies in space. While the Space Shuttle can only perform studies for a few days, the ISS can spread these tests out over months and even years. Life sciences, biology, technology, and Earth observation are only a handful of the multitude of research already performed aboard the space station. The ISS also provides educational outreach, allowing university-built experiments to take place aboard the vessel.
The ISS is a multinational collaboration that is being used for the good of mankind and betterment of humanity. Long-term tests aboard the station in the areas of materials and crew member functions will be paramount for our future longer duration trips to the moon and Mars.
There have been other space stations besides the ISS, including the famous Mir and Skylab stations. Skylab was launched by the United States as a single piece and manned by a crew a little while after it reached orbit. It stayed in Earth’s orbit from 1973 to 1979 and was manned by three separate crews in 1973 and 1974. After 1974, there were no longer any rockets left in surplus that could deliver crews to the station and the Space Shuttle was not yet built, so the Skylab project was abandoned. The station’s orbit began to decay and Skylab reentered the atmosphere on July 11, 1979. Plans to rescue the station with the Space Shuttle were in place but the station’s orbit decayed faster than scientists had predicted and they could not save the station.
Another famous space station was the Russian Mir station, which was the first long-term research station and remained in orbit from 1986 to 2001. Just like the ISS, Mir was built in modular sections that were launched and assembled separately. The station provided the former USSR and later, the United States, an opportunity to research and experiment with long-term studies in space. After several accidents, including a small fire and a collision with another unmanned spacecraft, Mir was abandoned and allowed to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. It broke apart over the South Pacific on March 23, 2001.
How These Space Flights Work
The present ideas for the immediate future of commercial and private space tourism focus on new types of air and spacecraft. This beginning stage of space tourism will focus on suborbital flights, or flights to an altitude of about 62 miles above the Earth, and will open the door for the entire industry to grow. The most researched and tested designs for suborbital flight are comprised of two separate craft. One larger aircraft, known as a mothership, carries the second craft, or the suborbital vehicle, to a certain altitude. The mothership then releases the second vehicle, which ignites its rocket engines and climbs away from the Earth and into space.
After undergoing a few days of basic spaceflight training, the participant will be strapped into the spacecraft while it is still on the ground. The mothership will then carry the spacecraft to a predetermined altitude and then release it, at which point the spaceship lights its rocket motor. The crew of the spacecraft will be in the ship for a few hours, although the time in space will only be about five minutes. The rest of the time is spent attached to the mothership, as it spirals upward to gain enough altitude to release the spaceship. After the trip into space, the spaceship will then reenter the atmosphere and come in for a safe landing at the spaceport.
Other options include a single spacecraft that will launch from the surface of the planet and break Earth’s gravity for a short suborbital flight or, of course, the standard option of being launched into space on top of a Russian Soyuz rocket.
Space hotels are also being intensely researched. While hotels in space are much farther into the future than rides on a suborbital vehicle, they will eventually become a viable option for a family vacation. A space hotel will be similar to our current space stations already in orbit high over the planet. Current ideas center on reusing large space shuttle or other rocket fuel tanks and converting the insides into hotels. A few fuel tanks can be combined to make one large space hotel for visitors.
Another exciting idea is a trip to the far side of the moon. Currently, Space Adventures, Ltd, the only company so far that has sent paying customers into space, is developing a program to send passengers for a trip around the moon. The participants will launch into Low Earth Orbit aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and rendezvous with a second, unmanned booster rocket in space. The second rocket will provide the thrust needed to propel passengers to the moon. While there are no plans to land on the moon as of yet, participants will be able to travel around the far side of the moon, a sight which has only been seen by a handful of humans.
How Affordable Space Tourism Started
Space Tourism has been a dream of humanity for a very long time. While it is possible to purchase a $20 Million ride into space right now, few people can actually afford to do so. However, the dream of affordable space flight finally “took-off” with the announcement of the Ansari X-Prize, a space competition in which the X-Prize Foundation offered $10 Million for the first company that could successfully launch a reusable, manned, suborbital space vehicle twice within two weeks. The company that won the prize was Scaled Composites with their prototype craft, WhiteKnight and SpaceShipOne, which completed the second flight on October 4, 2004.
There are several companies currently involved in project designs consisting of a mothership and suborbital vehicle. Among the front runners are Scaled Composites, which has built a new version of their WhiteKnight mothership and SpaceShipOne suborbital vehicle. The new aircraft are dubbed WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo and are set to fly very soon for the newest space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. A ticket for a spaceflight in SpaceShipTwo currently costs around $200,000 but the price is expected to drop to around $20,000 within a few years of service.
Flights will take place from “spaceports,” or launch facilities built specifically for launching vehicles into space. These spaceports will allow spacecraft to launch passengers into space and experience the sensation of weightlessness, also known as microgravity. Microgravity is a condition where the gravity is so weak that weightlessness results. Technically, there is never a condition known as “zero-gravity,” because there is always gravity in some form or another from the Earth and other stellar objects. Therefore, the term microgravity is used to define weightlessness in space.
Companies Involved in Space Tourism
WhiteKnightTwo & SpaceShipTwo
Several companies are getting in on this groundbreaking new industry. Virgin Galactic, owned by the eccentric entrepreneur Richard Branson, will be among the first companies to offer commercial space flights to customers. The company has teamed with Scaled Composites, winner of the Ansari X-Prize, to fly SpaceShipTwo into orbit with a full load of passengers. Virgin Galactic plans to fly the first commercial flights within the next two years. Space flights with Virgin Galactic will fly from Mojave Spaceport in California for the first few flights and future flights will be launched from a new spaceport complex in New Mexico. Eventually, the flights will be available in locations around the globe.
The C-21 Explorer being hoisted
on top of its M-55X mothership.
Other companies like Space Adventures, Ltd have similar concepts consisting of a mothership and suborbital vehicle. Their craft, the C-21 Explorer suborbital vehicle, will be released from an M-55X mothership and will then light its rocket motors and head for space. Space Adventures, Ltd has proposed plans for spaceports in both the United Arab Emirates and Singapore, and tickets will be about $102,000. Unfortunately, a lack of funds has temporarily halted the development of the suborbital vehicle.
The Lynx Suborbital Vehicle
XCOR Aerospace is planning to fly their Lynx suborbital vehicle within the next two years. The Lynx vehicle will take off from a runway and then burn a rocket motor to zoom passengers and crew up above the atmosphere and into space. The rocket-powered ascent will reach Mach 2, about 1,500 miles per hour, before the engines cut out and the craft coasts up into space. Passengers will experience weightlessness for a few minutes and then the craft will begin procedures for reentry. After reentering the atmosphere, the vehicle will pull about four times normal gravity, or 4G, before gliding down for landing back at the spaceport. When the spacecraft becomes operational, it will be able to launch several times per day.
Rocketplane Global’s Rocketplane
Another company deeply involved in the space tourism upstart is Rocketplane Global, which plans to launch a single vehicle that can carry passengers to space. Their design, the Rocketplane XP, will take off like an airplane and carry up to five passengers into space. The Rocketplane XP will use jet engines to gain altitude and then ignite a rocket motor to take the crew into space. It will then reenter the atmosphere and land like an ordinary airplane, much like the current space shuttle. The company’s planned launch facility will be at Oklahoma Spaceport and the cost for a seat will be about $200,000 per passenger.
A Comparison of Companies Offering Suborbital Flights
|Space Adventures||$102,000.00||62 Miles|
|Virgin Galactic||$200,000.00||68 Miles|
|Rocketplane Global||$200,000.00||62 Miles|
|XCOR Aerospace||$95,000.00||40 Miles|
Training and Living in Space
Ready to book that trip for the International Space Station? Before you set off on your adventure, there is some training required to ensure your safety during the flight. For participants looking to spend a week aboard the International Space Station within the next few years, the training will be fairly intensive, while those looking for a short suborbital flight will not be put through the rigors of true astronaut training.
Training for a suborbital flight is meant to be fairly easy for most people. The goal of this type of space tourism is to allow exhilarating trips into space for as many people as possible. Basic tests and training will be given to participants, such as medical flight exams and basic equipment training. Procedures for take-off, flight, and landing will also be meticulously detailed for every passenger. The crew wants to make sure that you have the time of your life and in order to do so, they must be sure that you know every facet of the flight and are physically able to take part in the journey. Training for suborbital flights will only take a few days and will be performed at or near the spaceport from which the participant will launch above the atmosphere.
A trip to the International Space Station will require more in-depth training. Sometimes, participants may train with astronauts for a year or two before their flight. Participants must be physically fit to handle the rigors of space flight and be prepared to live in microgravity for a few days. Physical, technical, and mental training will be integral preparation procedures for participants traveling to the International Space Station. A crew member must be familiar with common techniques and emergency systems while in flight.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of being aboard the space station is how the crew goes about their daily routines like sleeping, eating, exercising, and even using the bathroom. All of these ordinary functions will be much different up in space.
To sleep in space, a person will basically strap themselves into a sleeping bag on a wall of the space station. This prevents the person from floating around the station while asleep, which may cause injury if the participant bumps their head on another wall. Because the nearest hospital is quite a long way away, the utmost precautions must be taken to ensure the safety of the crew.
Eating in the microgravity of space will also be an interesting experience. Liquids will drift out of open containers and form into round orbs that can float all over the ship if they are not quickly contained. Most drinks are brought up in plastic packs and astronauts will drink them through straws. Many solid foods are freeze-dried, a process that removes all the water from the food. In space, water is then added back into the food to return the flavors. Foods are eaten out of containers that help prevent crumbs and particles from floating around the station, which can clog ducts or even damage sensitive instruments.
Because a participant will no longer be held down by gravity, his or her muscles will not get the same workout that they are used to back on Earth. The muscles may actually start to diminish while in space. In the earliest days of space travel, some astronauts came back to the surface of the planet and were unable to walk in the Earth gravity because they had lost so much muscle in space. However, we now know that it is imperative to exercise while in space to help to reduce muscle loss. Astronauts will spend an hour or two every day in their space station gym in order to maintain their muscles and fitness while in the microgravity of space.
Finally, personal hygiene is of the utmost importance in space. Again, because the closest medical facilities are several days away, space station crew members must maintain their bodies to stay healthy. Running water does not work in space because there is no gravity, so for now, astronauts take sponge baths to keep themselves clean. Astronauts brush their teeth just like they do on Earth. A toilet on the space station can be used by both males and females but instead of running water, it utilizes flowing air to move waste through the system, kind of like a vacuum. Solid wastes are compressed and stored on board the station and removed by the Space Shuttle when it arrives with new supplies and crew members. Liquid waste can be either vented into space or recycled. The flowing air is filtered to removed the odors and bacteria and is then recycled back into the cabin.