What is Space Tourism?

Put simply, space tourism is recreational space travel. Whether it’s a 10 minute jaunt out of the Earth’s atmosphere, a visit to the International Space Station or even a lap around the Moon, space tourism comes in many forms and is fast approaching as the next step in the tourism industry. Space tourism isn’t a new idea, multiple organisations have been working at developing the industry for decades, and there have already been tourists to space!

The First Space Tourists:

Although it sounds like a farfetched sci-fi concept, human space tourists have been launched from as early as 2001! From 2001 to 2009, 7 space tourists paid for a trip to the International Space Station through a Space Adventures Inc. These tourists paid upward of $20 million USD to be able to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and spent 10 days aboard the ISS, before returning to Earth. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any private astronauts launched to orbit since 2010 as Russia, the owners of the Soyuz launch vehicle, upped their presence on the ISS, removing the extra seats for tourists.

A Soyuz spacecraft docked to the International Space Station. Source: NASA

The Next Steps:

There are currently many organisations looking to make the next steps towards space tourism, both Government run and private.

NASA:

In June of 2019, NASA announced their goal to allow private astronauts aboard the ISS, through the use of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The ISS is currently in the process of a series of upgrades to it’s solar arrays in order to produce enough power to sustain the extra guests during their visits. NASA has stated that a trip to the ISS will cost $35,000 USD per day, plus a $50 million USD return ticket.

Virgin Galactic:

Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic aims to take tourists to space in a sub-orbital trajectory, briefly leaving the Earth’s atmosphere before re-entering shortly after. Rather than launching on a rocket, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship is hauled high into the air by a larger aircraft, before boosting into its sub-orbital flight path and gliding back to Earth for a soft landing. As of the time of writing, the first spacecraft in Virgin Galactic’s third series of space-plane has been rolled out and is awaiting its maiden flight. Virgin founder Richard Branson may ride this new space-plane out of the Earth’s atmosphere, becoming the organisation’s first space tourist.

VSS Unity Glides Home after Second Supersonic Flight. Soure: Virgin Galactic

Blue Origin:

Unlike Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane approach, Blue Origin intends to launch its passengers to space atop a conventional rocket stack. A maximum of 6 passengers will be launched aboard the New Shepard rocket and taken into space along a suborbital trajectory, not dissimilar to Virgin Galactic’s flight plan. The booster of the New Shepard rocket is completely reusable and will be able to be refuelled and re-flown in order to minimise the cost of each spaceflight, and therefore, reduce the ticket price for prospective tourists. At the time of writing Blue Origin is looking to launch their first crewed flight to space, carrying CEO Jeff Bezos, his brother and an unnamed passenger out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

New Shepard rocket launch. Source: Blue Origin

SpaceX:

In 2017, SpaceX announced they had received deposits from two tourists for a trip around the Moon. Other than the cancellation of Falcon Heavy launched Human spaceflight, not much was heard from the organisation until it was announced that SpaceX’s new Starship space vehicle would be taking billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as well as 6-8 artists around the Moon, instead of the Crew Dragon, as part of the #dearMoon project. At the time of writing, Starship is still in the development stage, and despite several atmospheric test flights, has not made it out of the Earth’s atmosphere. This could soon change with an upcoming launch however. See this month’s list for more.

An artist's depiction of a Starship in orbit of the Moon. Source: SpaceX CC BY-NC 2.0
Riley Johnston

Riley is an experienced astronomy guide who has been working within the astronomy community for several years. He is incredibly passionate about the night sky and is currently completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Math and Education.

Riley Johnston

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