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Origin:Proceedings of 5th ISCOPS, AAS Vol 77, AAS, pp 41-52

Many proposals for utilization of solar system resources for the benefit of Earth have been published during the three decades of the "space age", but to date they remain unrealized. In general this is not because they are technically unrealistic, but because they are commercially unattractive, and therefore depend on government funding. This is at best unreliable, and at worst seriously distorts the allocation of resources.

It is proposed that providing a commercial transportation service to low Earth orbit facilities for fare-paying passengers could generate much higher traffic levels than satellite launches, sufficient to justify the commercial development of fully reusable launch vehicles. Evidence that such services would be popular, and the potential for cost reduction in space system development are considered. A number of other issues that must be resolved, such as safety and legal questions, are discussed.

In addition to a number of social benefits, commercial passenger space travel seems to have the potential to serve as a catalyst for launch cost reduction. This is the key to exploiting the space frontier for the benefit of Earth, through making new space projects such as solar energy from space economically attractive.

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