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Over the past few years the general perception of space tourism has changed from being considered "science fiction" to becoming recognised as an important new target for the space industry. This change has been stimulated in part by the Space Tourism Study Program of the Japanese Rocket Society ( JRS), which led to the development of a scenario that has received general consensus: if some $12 billion of funding became available in the near future, commercial passenger space travel services to and from Earth orbit could begin in 2010. At a growth rate of some 100,000 passengers/year/year the business could reach 700,000 passengers/ year by 2017, at a price of about $25,000 /passenger.
The importance of this result is that $12 billion is less than half of one year's funding of government space agencies today, and it is therefore readily affordable. The paper extrapolates the JRS scenario to the year 2030, based on market research results. By that time space tourism activities could have grown to a scale of $100 billion/year, creating several million jobs. It thereby demonstrates the very great economic value of such a development - approximately $1 trillion greater than the value of continued taxpayer funding of space agencies' activities without developing space tourism. The paper also discusses the potentially critical importance of this new industry in maintaining economic growth in the world economy against the deflationary pressures caused by excess capacity in older industries, and inadequate investment in new ones.
Several events over the past 2 years have greatly raised the credibility and attention given to the subject of space tourism. These include:
The formal Space Tourism Study Program under way within the Japanese Rocket Society since 1993 is widely accepted as a reasonable baseline for discussion of the potential for establishing a commercial space tourism industry. The scenario developed as part of that study estimated that the development and certification of the " Kankoh-maru" VTOL passenger launch vehicle, designed to carry 50 passengers to low Earth orbit ( LEO), and involving 1200 test-flights using 4 vehicles (following aviation practice), would require 10 years and a budget of some $12 billion. It is notable that this is less than half of the annual budget of government space agencies today, and so is clearly a very supportable level of investment.
Assuming the start of orbital passenger space flights in 2010, the JRS scenario foresees production of 8 Kankoh-maru vehicles/year, each capable of 300 flights/year for 10 years. This implies a growth in passenger numbers of approximately 100,000 passengers/year/year, leading to some 700,000 passengers/year in 2017 (4).
The JRS's continuing Study Program has identified several areas that require further study. First, the development and manufacturing cost estimates of Kankoh- maru have been criticised as too high, being roughly twice the estimate made by Lockheed-Martin for the much larger "Venture Star" reusable launch vehicle. (NB Kankoh-maru is both structurally simpler and much smaller than the proposed Venture Star, but it is more ambitious in its flight rate of 300 flights/year.) However, cost-estimating models for rocket launch vehicles are not readily applicable to vehicles planned to perform airline-style operations since there is no data-base of relevant experience. The accumulated experience in the aviation world of designing and operating rocket-powered aircraft is probably more relevant, but this has not yet been assembled in a useful form. Second, no detailed analysis has yet been carried out of the development and production costs of orbital accommodation facilities, which are considered important to generate sufficient demand for passenger flights to orbit.
Nevertheless, based on market research data, economic growth projections, and historical growth rates achieved by other industries, reasonable forecasts can be made for further growth of the space tourism industry from 2017 forward.
Based on the above discussion, we can lay out a vision of space tourism activities 30 years in the future, based on the provision of a growing range of commercial space travel services to the general public. Extending the JRS scenario linearly to 2020, passenger numbers would reach 1 million/year after 10 years of operation. Thereafter it seems reasonable to project continued growth both in the number of customers and in the range of services offered, as this would follow the pattern seen in the travel and tourism industry on Earth. This growth would be fueled by rising incomes, growing middle class populations, and commercial competition between service providers to attract customers from around the world. On this basis, passenger numbers traveling to low Earth orbit ( LEO) of 5-10 million/year 30 years from now would imply average growth rates of 18% - 26%/year through the decade 2020-2030, which are certainly feasible.
On this scenario, traffic of 5 million passengers/year in 2030 would imply that the cumulative number of passengers at that time would reach some 40 million people - or perhaps 3% of the middle class population of the time. However, in market research, most people say that they would like to travel to space, and in addition a large proportion, particularly of younger people, say that they wish to do so several times.
Furthermore, based on the precedent of decades of commercial aviation experience, we can predict that service prices will fall steadily as passenger numbers increase. And due to this fall in prices as well as to the development of progressively more entertaining facilities in orbit, it seems probable that demand will continue to grow strongly. Consequently a traffic rate of 5 million passengers/ year by 2030 will be very far from satisfying the known demand: serving a mere 3% of the middle class population will not satisfy the market. Hence traffic levels several times higher than this, perhaps 20 million/year, must be considered a possibility. Such traffic rates may seem unrealistically high to some members of the space industry; however they seem rather low to members of the aviation industry, who already carry more than 20 million passengers every week, and are expecting air traffic to quadruple by 2030.
Orbital Accommodation Industry
Such growth will also have interesting implications for the hotel industry. It is worth noting, first, that the technology required for initial orbital accommodation is much simpler not only than that needed for passenger launch vehicles, but also than that in orbiting research stations: there is no need for highly accurate attitude control, high-speed computers and communications, nor custom-designed research equipment. Nevertheless, by 2030 orbital hotels will have moved beyond the first generation comprising clusters of standard pre-fabricated modules, and will include large structures like resort hotels, entertainment complexes and sports centres assembled in orbit (5).
From market research, the great majority of customers can be expected to stay in orbit for 2-3 days or longer, from which it is simple to calculate that 5-10 million passengers/year will entail some 30,000 - 80,000 guests staying simultaneously in orbital accommodation. Assuming an average occupancy rate of 80%, this will require capacity for some 35,000 to 100,000 guests in orbit. This will therefore become a field for substantial business investment, involving the wide range of activities involved in commercial real estate development on Earth in addition to aerospace engineering (6).
Another implication is that, assuming a staff:guest ratio of between 1:3 and 1:2, the number of hotel staff working in orbit 30 years from now will be between 10,000 and 50,000. Since staff will work shifts of perhaps 1- 2 months in orbit, the total number of people engaged in this work will be at least twice this figure, some 20 - 100,000.
Staff who work in space for the travel and tourism industry as hotel staff and space tour conductors (or " Specon", a contraction of "Space conductor", as they are coming to be known in Japan) can therefore be expected to outnumber government astronauts by hundreds-to-one by 2030. As career-goals for young people to aim towards, this is therefore a much more realistic target than trying to be selected as one of the tiny number of government astronauts (whose selection inevitably takes place in the proverbial "smoke-filled rooms").
Based on this simple analysis, we can project that 30 years from now there will be more than 100 hotels in orbit, since even at the lower end of the projections made above an average capacity of 350 guests/hotel seems rather high. These hotels will probably operate in a small number of defined orbits, in which they will maintain their position within agreed parameters, due to the safety and operational benefits that they will gain (7, 8). Agreement over positions in low Earth orbits is similar in principle to that for geo-stationary orbit, though it will be more complex in practice, and will require a number of legal innovations (7, 8). The majority of the hotels will therefore probably be within one of perhaps two different high- inclination orbits which will allow for economical access from high latitudes (9, 10), as well as providing guests views of much of the Earth.
There may also be as many as 20 specialised sports centres, comprising a stadium and accommodation for users and spectators. These sports centres are likely to be in a low equatorial orbit, which is the cheapest orbit to reach, since their customers will generally be more interested in zero gravity sports than in viewing a wide range of different places on Earth. By 2030, sports stadia as large as 100m in length could be in operation, and international sports competitions in both "zero G" and artificial gravity created by rotating the sports stadium seem likely to be developed.
There may be as many as 10 hotels in a polar orbit to give guests detailed views of the entire Earth, and there may also be a few hotels in one or more highly elliptical orbits with apogees of several thousand km in order to provide guests views of the distant Earth. Access to these will be significantly more expensive than to other hotels, but over some 15 years a significant level of market segmentation can be expected to take place.
With 100 or more scheduled flights/day to the hotels listed above, and probably many more private flights, aerospace traffic control will be long-established. A system based on the Space and Air Traffic Management System (SATMS) proposed in early 1999 by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) seems likely to have been adopted internationally and developed to include "local" space traffic management systems in the vicinity of each hotel, and for each defined orbit (11).
Due to the commercial incentives that will arise as the scenario described above develops, there is likely to be at least one propellant "service station" in each of the main hotel orbits, supplying water, oxygen and hydrogen initially. The supply of water (for conversion using solar-powered electrolysis into oxygen and hydrogen) and/or oxygen from the lunar surface and from Earth-approaching cometary bodies both to these LEO propellant stations, and to orbital hotels and sports centres will also probably be a regular commercial activity by 2030 (12).
Indeed, 30 years from now, the leading-edge of space tourism will have moved on, with businesses offering round-trips to stay in hotels both in lunar orbit and on the lunar surface, serviced with scheduled daily flights. Bigelow Aerospace is aiming to offer the first such services within about 15 years (13), and so by 2030 lunar tourism could probably support two hotels in lunar orbit, and more on the lunar surface. Likely sites include both lunar poles where water may be readily accessible, and others at sites with particularly good views. Hilton International has specifically quoted the discovery of water on the lunar surface as the reason for starting to plan the first Lunar Hilton (14)
In case the idea of lunar tourism seems futuristic, it should be remembered that the technology needed to travel to the Moon is already more than 30 years old. Once the key step is taken to develop low-cost passenger services to and from low Earth orbit, there is no reason why travel to and from the Moon should not follow quickly. Indeed, lunar hotels are likely to be more attractive to wealthy tourists due to their exclusivity.
Space tourism turnover
The tourist activities described above will represent a turnover of the order of some $100 billion/year by 2030, assuming 5 million guests paying $20,000 each. Although this is far larger than space activities today, it will still be only a few percent of civil aviation at that time, which is projected to exceed $2 trillion/year. Over and above the selling of travel services to customers, the provision of accommodation services in addition to space transportation will create new markets in space for a wide range of products and services, creating many new commercial opportunities in these fields.
Based on the cost estimates in the JRS scenario, the development of these activities will have absorbed some $200 billion of cumulative investment by 2030, most of it occurring through the 2020s. Almost all of this investment will come from commercial sources, for which $200 billion is not a large amount - an overall average of $7 billion/year, reaching perhaps $20 billion in 2030. (For comparison, annual expenditure by government space agencies today is $25 billion/year.)
Consequently the total amount invested commercially in passenger space travel services, and in other commercial space activities that develop from them over the next 30 years, could reach several times the amount needed for this scenario without strain. Indeed, it is only the amount that taxpayers would be obliged to pay for government space agencies if funded at today's level over the same time period - though without any comparable economic return. This point is discussed further in the following section.
In a more ambitious scenario, the commercial investment of perhaps half a trillion dollars would create several hundred billion dollars/year turnover of new commercial space activities, providing the basis for a well-founded, world-wide economic boom, and opening access to the limitless resources of space. Such an outcome would finally dispel all pessimistic concerns about the Earth's limited resources, the inevitability of poverty for much of the world's population, the end of economic growth, and so on.
This is particularly true in view of the fact that a major beneficiary of the low launch costs that the growth of large-scale space tourism activities will bring about could be the global electricity industry, because the supply of electric power from space to Earth will become commercially feasible at approximately the same launch cost/kg as tourism (16). If an early pilot plant such as the Japanese "SPS 2000" project (17) is implemented in a timely manner and successfully demonstrates the potential economic feasibility of delivering environmentally benign microwave power from space to Earth, this activity could become a second major commercial space activity by 2030, earning tens of $billions/year, and supporting investment on a broadly similar scale to tourism. Thus, by reducing the cost of access to space sharply, space tourism could also be extremely beneficial to the global environment by making the supply of clean power from space economically feasible.
It is particularly interesting to note that the activities described above will create several million permanent jobs in the aerospace, hospitality and related industries, a large proportion of them in leading industrial countries (although the technical know- how on which they depend will be available in a wider range of countries in 2030 than they are today). This is in striking contrast to the effect of government space spending: the current level of $25 billion/year maintains employment at some 1/2 million - in jobs which will disappear when this taxpayer support ends.
It is instructive to compare these two outcomes in more detail. The continuation of government funding at $25 billion/year would use $750 billion over 30 years, of which perhaps 25% might return to governments as taxes. The tourism scenario would use about half this amount of investment (of which perhaps 25% would flow to governments as taxes), but most of it would come from private investors to whom it would be returned with a commercial rate of profit. It would in addition generate commercial revenues of $100 billion/year or more (of which perhaps 25% would flow to governments as taxes), and support several million jobs. Cumulative revenues by 2030 would be approaching $1 trillion.
The net difference to the economy between these two scenarios would thus reach of the order of $1 trillion by 2030 - a very substantial contribution to the world economy of that time. Estimates of the present value of this scenario depend on the discount rate used, which might vary from 18.6%, being a recent estimate of the cost of capital for a space tourism venture (18), to as low as 3%, as an estimate of the long-term economic growth rate. The former figure is appropriate for the initial investments at each significantly new phase of development; however, the correct value to use as an average over the next 30 years lies somewhere between these two figures. In this case the present value of $1 trillion in 2030 will lie between some $300 billion and some $4 billion; a 10% discount rate would give some $50 billion. Clearly, whatever discount rate is used, it is economically very desirable to invest in the creation of this new industry.
The decision to implement this scenario will not only be economically valuable in itself, but it is also desirable for its contribution to the development of the world economy which is currently threatened by deflation due to excess capacity in many older industries, and inadequate investment in new ones. The growth of commercial space travel services as illustrated in Figure 1 could therefore play an important role in stimulating and maintaining further economic growth throughout the world.
The economic value of this scenario, in terms of the addition to global turnover and profits, increase in tax revenues, etc, is some $1 trillion. Since there are no alternative proposals for achieving space commercialisation on anywhere near this scale, the decision not to develop a space tourism industry in the near future would therefore impose an unnecessary cost on taxpayers of approximately $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Such a financial burdem is not only heavy in itself; the waste of this opportunity would also prolong the deflationary forces in the world economy. Delaying it unnecessarily for even a few years would impose a cost of tens of $ billions.
This result raises the question "Since the economic effects of such a development are so desirable, what should governments do to ensure its realisation?" Above all, governments should take whatever steps are effective in getting private investment to flow into this field as soon as possible. The lack of effort in this direction by taxpayer-funded space agencies to date reflects their continuing concern for their traditional activities rather than for the wider interests of the general public.
Throughout the world, many major industries have been undergoing severe restructuring in the post-cold-war period - based on adapting their activities to provide services that sufficiently large numbers of the general public wish to pay for. It is time for the space industry also to undergo a similar re-orientation towards providing the public with services that they are prepared to pay for, rather than continuing to spend large amounts of taxpayers' money on unprofitable activities chosen by political processes. The first step is for space agencies to acknowledge, publicly, frequently and authoritatively, the primary importance of the objective of making space travel services available to the general public, as well as its feasibility, its likely profitability, and its economic desirability, as NASA and the AIAA have already admitted in print (1, 2). Such acknowledgment alone could greatly encourage investors to start to take an interest in this field. Thereafter there is a long list of helpful activities that governments can perform, some of which are discussed in (1, 15 & 19).
In the absence of serious disruption to world economic growth, by 2030 the space tourism industry could be carrying some 5 - 10 million passengers/year to low Earth orbit, with some 50,000 - 100,000 guests staying simultaneously in a range of accommodation facilities in orbit - hostels, hotels, resort hotels, sports centers. Tourism services to hotels orbiting the Moon and on the lunar surface can also be expected to be under way, based on technical capabilities that are already more than 30 years old today.
Although this scenario may seem more ambitious than the plans of government space agencies, it would require substantially less investment than the $25 billion/year that governments currently spend on civilian space activities. More importantly, the great majority of the investment involved would come from commercial sources, not from taxpayers, and would be returned with substantial profit to investors, thereby adding to the wealth of society.
The major reduction in launch costs which the development of large-scale space travel services would cause would also create other commercial opportunities in space, including possibly making the supply of environmentally clean electricity from space competitive with other sources.
This paper has shown that the vigorous development of space tourism over the next 3 decades has an economic value, in terms of addition to global income and wealth, increase in tax revenues, etc, of some $1 trillion. The longer the delay in changing the priority of space activities to aim at realising this highly desirable outcome, the greater the cost to taxpayers.