4 April 2003
- Tourism (None)
Interview with Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures
The current state of affairs in space tourism
by G B Leatherwood
Eric Anderson, President and CEO of Space Adventures, is an entrepreneur, businessman, and aerospace engineer. He has previously worked as a NASA researcher, as a Lead Engineer for a leading aerospace software firm, and has started several companies. Most recently, he was the Founder and Executive Vice President of Starport.com, acquired in June 2000 by space.com.

Our readers would like to know how you think the Columbia disaster will affect getting tourists, as opposed to scientists and professional astronauts, into space?
The Columbia explosion has shaken the entire space industry and has emphasized the immediate need for safer, more reliable technology and reusable launch vehicles (RLVs). I feel that this will continue to trigger investment to develop new technology for safer, cost-effective space access.

Space travel has a risk factor associated with it. As with those who explore the extreme regions here on Earth, both astronauts and space tourists assume risks. These space explorers accept the risks willingly, knowing that their work is important and that they are, in fact, the pioneers of space exploration, the ones that make it safer for everyone else to follow.

Now that the Russian Space Agency (RSA) has told NASA that it will no longer accept tourists on their Soyuz's, how do you think this hindrance will affect the space tourism industry?

The RSA has stated that space tourist flights to the ISS will resume when the Shuttle fleet is off the ground. Although this postponement of orbital flight is a small setback for the industry, it is only temporary and the interest still exists. All of our orbital clients/candidates have assured us of their strong and continued desire to fly to the ISS when the opportunity again becomes available.

Although this tragedy has postponed orbital tourist flights to the International Space Station ( ISS), space tourism continues to move forward through sub-orbital RLV development. Space Adventures is leading the effort of opening the space frontier to private explorers through future sub-orbital flights, for which we currently have over 100 reservations.

With only three US shuttles left and no successors even close to flying, plus the Russian limitation we talked about, what is left for space tourists?
Space tourism is not limited to orbital flights; it encompasses a wide array of experiences, which means anything from space training here on earth (zero-g, MiGs, centrifuge, etc.) to flights into sub-orbit and orbit.

Space tourism is focusing, just as it did before, on sub-orbital space flight development. In this way, the amazing experience of traveling to space will be made available to hundreds of thousands of people each year versus only two per year with orbital flights. However, as President Bush has stated, the space program will continue as planned, which means that orbital flights to the ISS will continue as well.

In the meantime, Space Adventures provides people with many space training experiences for those who want to get a taste of space. These include zero-gravity flights, flights to the edge of space in the world's fastest combat aircraft, space walk simulations, centrifuge training, and more.

If the RSA does in fact not accept any more paying passengers, what business opportunities are available for Space Adventures?
Our revenues and profits are not solely based on orbital space flights, however, RSA has given indication that tourist flights will continue. If that is not the case, we will continue to remain profitable by providing our space training experiences, bringing many of them to the United States, and focusing our efforts on sub-orbital flight development.
Our long-term ideas include buying Soyuz rockets for private use, building a private space station, and more.
Over the next few decades, the only space vehicles likely to pay off are those being designed and built by private industry to take tourists on sub-orbital flights. Space Adventures has long focused on trying to get sub-orbital flights up and running for tourism and other commercial applications. Investment is particularly needed in the development of such RLVs, but it's too early to tell if investors will seize this opportunity.

In what ways do you think the Columbia disaster will accelerate or hinder the development of private space exploration?
Space will always maintain its desirability and remain a lifelong dream for many around the world. After the Columbia incident, I called our orbital and sub-orbital clients, and I was pleased to see that all of them still wish to fulfill their dream of space flight. The kinds of people that want to travel to space are not deterred by such an unfortunate event. I believe the disaster is actually accelerating the development of private space exploration as new types of less complex, reliable vehicles are sought.

We understand that there a number of X-Prize contest entries that are well along in their development. Is Space Adventures working with any of these to help speed up the process?
We are closely working with, either investing in or helping with investment efforts, several sub-orbital RLV developers, including Bristol Spaceplanes (Ascender), Cosmopolis XXI, XCOR Aerospace, Pioneer Rocketplane, and other large and small companies.

Space tourism depends on three things: RLVs, destinations, and full-service launch and landing facilities. What do you see as necessary for the further development of the space tourism industry?
Space Adventures is working on all the things necessary for this industry to prevail: We are currently in negotiations with several spaceport locations (US and abroad) for development of private launch/landing/training facilities. We are also closely assisting our partnering RLV developers with their projects. For the long-term, we do have plans for private habitat, but that's more realistic when the price of space access lowers. In the interim, Space Adventures will provide individuals, corporations, etc., with the opportunity to fly to the ISS.

What impact do you think the Columbia disaster will have on private venture capitalists, who are typically reluctant to risk their money? Will we have to continue to rely on governments for financing space exploration?
After the Columbia incident, I have received many requests from private venture capitalists wishing to invest in our projects and vehicles. It seems the tragic disaster sparked a renewed interest in private space exploration. Investors see now, even more than before, the benefits of sponsoring a sub-orbital vehicle that can generate over US$1 billion annually in revenues. However, as long as the Research and Development costs are extremely high, such as with orbital RLVs, we may have to continue to rely on government agencies, then develop them further on a commercial level.
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G B Leatherwood 4 April 2003
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