Space tourism caters to those seeking a space travel experience, with the ability to be an astronaut for leisure, recreational, or business purposes. While most people consider space tourism as trips to space, the concept is broader. For example, it can include visiting space-focused museums, watching rocket launches, or traveling to destinations popular for stargazing and other space-related activities.
To date, space tourism opportunities have been limited and experienced mainly by the rich. However, several start-up companies have sprung up in recent years, like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, all hoping to develop space travel experiences for everyday people.
Read on as we dive deep into the space tourism industry.
- What Is Space Tourism?
- The History of Space Tourism
- The Rise of Commercial Space Tourism Business
- The Cost of Visiting Space
- Examples of Space Tourism
- What Are the Pros and Cons of Space Tourism?
- Will We All Travel to Space One Day?
What Is Space Tourism?
The aviation industry offers a space tourism segment where tourists have the opportunity to travel to space. It is sectioned into different types: orbital, suborbital, and lunar.
However, the Space Tourism Guide offers a broader definition of space tourism: It is a space-related commercial activity, including visiting as a tourist, stargazing, watching rocket launches, or traveling to a space-focused destination.
The History of Space Tourism
Surprisingly we’ve only been visiting space for the past 59 years, mainly for government activity. Yuri Gagarin became the first man to visit space on April 12, 1961. Since then, only 600 people have traveled to space. In times to come, the number of space visitors will expand fast as more people can afford space access.
Space tourism started its roots with Gagarin’s momentous trip to today’s test flights and future tourist experiences. Here are some space tourism history highlights to help you better understand the industry.
Early History of Human Spaceflight: 1957-1969
The Soviet Union was keen to capitalize on their space race lead after the successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. They accomplished this on April 12, 1961, with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space. Aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, Gagarin made a 108-minute orbital flight. Next, the U.S Mercury Space program tried to do the same, and in May 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard was the first U.S citizen in space. Then in 1962, the first American to orbit the Earth was John Glenn.
Orbiting space expeditions became a common activity as the U.S., and the Soviet Union raced to be the first to put “man” on the moon.
The Concept of Space Tourism Is Born: 1970s
The 1970s started with the concept that people other than highly trained cosmonauts and astronauts could go into space. Thus, the first chapter in the history of space tourism was born.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon declared the Space Shuttle the new age of spaceflight. These Shuttles were initially constructed and proposed to be reusable and less expensive. Envisioned to carry research and construction freight for space stations, early Shuttles included a passenger cabin within the Shuttle cargo bay. Designed to accommodate up to 74 travelers in orbit for three days, this was the initial exhaustive idea for space tourism.
The concept of space tourism was fixed even though it wasn’t developed. Then regrettably, the 1980s saw a catastrophe that averted the large-scale advancement of the space tourism business.
Nongovernment Astronauts Travel to Space: 1980s
Overall, the Space Shuttle plan was a victory. It ran from 1981 to the final assignment in 2011. Throughout that time, 135 projects were launched, and 355 travelers went to space.
Charles Walker’s employer McDonnell Douglas paid for a flight aboard the STS-41-D. Walker was considered the first nongovernment astronaut, although not the first tourist. Successes such as these helped NASA gain faith in their Space Flight Participant package, which was developed to inspire citizens without government or scientific positions to space travel. Christa McAuliffe was the first teacher in space travel in 1985.
When the Challenger Space Shuttle launched in early 1986, the world watched as it tragically broke apart 73 seconds into flight. After losing all seven crew members, the Space Shuttle program ceased for over two years; subsequently, the Space Flight Participant program was withdrawn.
Spaceflight Business as Usual: 1990s
The Challenger tragedy slowed advancement in the American aerospace business as this was the first disaster where American astronauts died since Apollo 1 in 1967.
Throughout the 1990s, regular spaceflight and launches by Russia and the U.S. were established. Then, China slowly moved toward becoming a spacefaring country.
During the tail-end of the 1990s, an upsurge of space tourism resurfaced, including Space Adventures Ltd., becoming the initial company to start working with citizens wanting to visit space. In 1999 XCOR Aerospace was established and followed suit, becoming the second space tourism company. They also founded Bigelow Aerospace that year, intending to place a private space station into orbit. These space tourism enterprises targeted customers who made considerable wealth during the dot.com bubble.
Space Tourism Is Launched: 2000s
The 2000s is when space tourism officially began.
In 2001, Dennis Tito, a wealthy American, bought a ticket to the Mir space station via a Russian spaceflight company. Tito then transferred his $20 million ticket to the International Space Station through Space Adventures in 2001 after Mir was decommissioned. As a result, Tito became the first private citizen to purchase a space ticket and experienced a nearly eight-day stopover aboard the ISS in April 2001.
The following few years saw six more citizens pay for a stay on the ISS, including Mark Shuttleworth, a South African IT millionaire in 2002, and Richard Garriott, a British-American gaming millionaire in 2008. Most individuals arranged their space flights through Space Adventures and visited space via a Soyuz spacecraft.
The Rise of Commercial Space Tourism Business
During the 2010s, more household brands of space travel rose to prominence. For example, in 2000, Jeff Bezos started Blue Origin, then Virgin Galactic was established by Richard Branson in 2004. Many other companies swamped the industry, too, eager to capitalize on restored public curiosity in space and wealthy citizens ready to pay for entry.
Despite the high interest, space tourism had been restricted to launches via the Russian Soyuz aircraft, with the International Space Station being the only destination.
There are now a variety of destinations and providers for space travel. Here are the six prominent companies offering or planning to offer touristic space flights:
- Virgin Galactic
- Blue Origin
- Space Perspective
- Axiom Space
- Space Tourism Companies
Currently, the space tourism market has numerous key players. Here’s a summary of each:
Virgin Galactic is possibly one of the most well-known space tourism holiday companies. As part of the British Virgin Group, it benefits from an already well-established and reputable brand. It operates from New Mexico and is headquartered in California; U.S. Virgin Galactic develops commercial spacecraft and provides suborbital spaceflights for tourists.
Their suborbital spacecraft is air-launched from under the “White Knight Two” carrier airplane. Virgin Galactic’s maiden spaceflight occurred in 2018 with the spaceship “VSS Unity.” Branson had initially expected to see a maiden spaceflight by 2010. However, the date was postponed for several years, primarily due to the VSS Enterprise crash in October 2014.
Virgin Galactic is developing spaceships similar in size and shape to military jets with twice as many engines. In addition, they offer suborbital trips for tourists to experience weightlessness for approximately six minutes before returning to the starting point.
They arrange to send various tourists to space and have recently re-opened the waiting list for space tourism flight bookings. A deposit of $150,000 is required for a ticket costing $450,000. In November 2021, Virgin Galactic reported approximately 700 customers awaiting flights. The extensive waiting lists include A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, and Ashton Kutcher.
Blue Origin LLC is a privately funded aerospace manufacturer and suborbital spaceflight provider. Started by Jeff Bezos and led by CEO Bob Smith, they aim to offer cheaper and more dependable space admission via reusable launch vehicles.
They develop orbital technology, rocket-powered vertical take-off, and vertical landing vehicles to enter orbital and suborbital space. With a primary focus on suborbital spaceflight, Blue Origin has constructed and flown numerous testbeds of its “New Shepard” vehicle from its facilities in Texas. Developmental test flights started in April 2015, and flight testing is ongoing.
Blue Origin successfully flew its first crewed mission on July 20, 2021, after rescheduling the original 2018 date. They have not yet started commercial passenger flights nor confirmed a fixed date for when they’ll begin. However, they plan to provide space tourism holidays similar to Virgin Galactic’s. They also plan to develop a lunar lander to transport up to four people to the moon.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), founded by Elon Musk in 2002, is a space launch provider, spacecraft manufacturer, and satellite communications corporation based in California. Musk started SpaceX to reduce space transportation costs and allow the colonization of Mars. SpaceX is developing “Starship,” a completely reusable, super heavy-lift structure for orbital and interplanetary spaceflight. Starship is intended to become their primary orbital vehicle once in operation. On its debut, planned for 2022, pending a launch license, it will have the highest cargo capacity of any orbital rocket.
They are currently developing a crewed variety of its “Dragon” spacecraft to carry up to seven astronauts on missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX has previously flown two crewed missions for NASA with four astronauts each.
Future plans for SpaceX include lunar tourism and orbital flight. Musk has permitted its Crew Dragon spacecraft to be hired for orbital flights as with the Inspiration4 3-day mission.
Other Spaceflight Competitors
While Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin concentrate on suborbital flights, Aerospace Defense corporation Boeing and space infrastructure developer Axiom Space focus on progressing orbital missions.
Luxury spaceflight experience company Space Perspective is working on a distinct balloon-based technique to transport customers to the stratosphere and is preparing to begin its commercial flights in 2024.
Companies including Armadillo Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace tried to enter the industry; however, they found aerospace’s technical and financial hurdles too significant to overcome.
The Cost of Visiting Space
For an idea of the price per person for space entry, here are some approximate costs.
- Virgin Galactic: for a 2-hour suborbital flight at an altitude of 80 km (about 50 mi), the cost is approximately $250,000 per person.
- Blue Origin: a 12-minute suborbital flight at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) costs approximately $300,000.
- Space Perspective: a 6-hour flight to 32 km (20 mi) above the Earth (edge of space) costs around $125,000.
- Axiom Space: for a 10-day orbital flight, the cost is approximately $55 million.
Examples of Space Tourism
High Altitude Jet Fighter Flights
MiGFlug GmbH is a Switzerland-based Space Adventure and Aviation company specializing in fighter jet flights and offers a supersonic fighter jet experience. Based out of Russia, space tourists have the option to be taken up to the stratosphere in a supersonic fighter jet. The unique space tourism activity typically involves reaching an altitude of 20-22 km. At this altitude, the curvature of the Earth is visible, the sky is dark, with the ability to see into space. As part of the flight, there is also the opportunity to control the aircraft, and the pilot performs several aerobatic maneuvers.
The Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum is a Russian military fighter jet that accommodates for rates of climb of 330 milliseconds and a top speed of 2390 km/h (1485 mph). MiGFlug offers three services in this aircraft:
- A 25-minute flight with aerobatic maneuvers without supersonic flight will cost approximately €12,500 ($12,727).
- A 45-minute flight with a supersonic flight and higher aerobatics costs around €14,500 ($14,764).
- The “Edge of Space” flight, which includes supersonic flight, aerobatics, and traveling up into the stratosphere, is approximately €17,500 ($17,818).
However, MiG-29 flights have been temporarily stopped since 2017.
Atmospheric Zero-Gravity Flights
The Weightless Experience
The Zero Gravity Corp is based in Florida and operates weightless flights from U.S. airports. These unique zero-gravity experiences operate via a specially modified Boeing 727, where skilled pilots execute aerobatic maneuvers called parabolas. Zero gravity promises to deliver a real weightless experience without traveling into space.
MiGFlug also offers a similar experience via an Ilyushin IL-76 MDK aircraft in Russia. The aircraft is adapted with padded cabins in weightless flights to prevent injury.
The ZERO-G Experience bundle includes 15 parabolic maneuvers, each delivering approximately 20-30 seconds of weightlessness for around $4,950 + 5% tax. In addition, the experience consists of ZERO-G merchandise, pre-, and post-flight cuisine, videos, photos, and a weightlessness completion certificate.
For around $195, they’ll provide a non-flyer package for tourists wishing to participate in the pre- and post-flight activities only.
MiGFlug also delivers a weightless experience with other activities included. The tourists will have a medical health check at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre a day before the flight. In addition, they will have a guided tour of Star City that involves seeing the world’s largest centrifuge, the Hydrolab. Finally, on the day of the flight, the tourists are taken with a team of cosmonauts, physicians, and pilots to the IL-76 MDK for the weightless experience.
This package costs around €4,900 ($4,989) per person, or the entire aircraft can be reserved for €49,000 ($49,893) for up to 12 people.
Short Duration Suborbital Flights
A suborbital spaceflight is when the spacecraft gets to outer space, but its route intersects the surface or atmosphere of the gravitating body from which it was launched. As a result, it will not complete one orbital rotation (it does not turn into a type of satellite) or reach escape velocity.
A suborbital tourist flight initially focuses on achieving the altitude necessary to qualify as reaching space. After that, the flight path will be very steep or vertical, with the spacecraft arriving back at its take-off position.
The spacecraft will shut down its engines before attaining maximum altitude and then cruise to its maximum point. From when the engines are switched off to the point where the acceleration starts to slow down, weightlessness is experienced.
Commercial suborbital flight providers include Blue Origin, Near Space Corporation, and Virgin Galactic.
Longer Duration Orbital Flights
An orbital flight is where the spacecraft is positioned on a trajectory where it could stay in space for at least one orbit. To do this around Earth, it should be on an open course with an altitude at the closest approach of approximately 80 kilometers. This is NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and the FAA’s definition of the “boundary of space.” To stay in orbit at this altitude requires an orbital speed of approximately 7.8 km (4.85 mi) per second.
Stargazing is the most popular space tourism activity for a lot of people. Many parts of the world are famous for their stargazing potential, and they’re typically found in remote areas with reduced light pollution for maximum visibility. Some companies have taken advantage of the renowned stargazing destinations by arranging stargazing tours or providing stargazing-focused accommodation choices such as bubble hotels.
Rocket launches are not an everyday event; however, it’s possible to observe them when they do occur. This space tourist event was once only possible by government operation, and now many private firms are undertaking rocket launch experiences.
The well-known part of the space tourism industry is space museums and heritage sites. Many museums worldwide focus on outer space, mainly in the United States and Russia.
Space Tourism Holidays
In recent years, space tourism holidays have attracted much attention, as people consider swapping two weeks in the sun for two weeks in space. However, a holiday in space does require adjusting to zero gravity, and tourists may experience travel sickness.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Space Tourism?
Here are some of the motivational factors behind space tourism and some of its disadvantages.
The Tourist Experience
Space tourism can connect people to space personally and physically. Theorists claim that the tourism event comprises the pursuit of authenticity. Living in the modern world creates a state of estrangement in which we cannot comprehend our real selves. The motive for many people to partake in space travel is the opportunity to escape the world and experience a different world to discover the “authentic.”
In addition, the vision of Earth from space can be an exhilarating, breath-taking, and surreal experience. The concept of weightlessness is fascinating and unusual, and one can enjoy the thrill of a high-speed experience that cannot be obtained otherwise. Space tourism can potentially enhance and improve the well-being of people through extraordinary recreation and leisure.
The growing competitive market of space tourism inspires innovation, which is excellent for the industry.
The competition drives space tourism enterprises to develop inventions and new technology to attract customers. A desire for innovation will continue to be a fundamental factor in the future of space travel. Many technological advances in the coming decades will likely stem from a demand for space tourism.
For example, space hotels may evolve into floating dome-like structures or captivating space igloos on Mars. With further technological advancement, the development of accommodations offering pleasure and comfort is possible.
The first space tourists have flown into low Earth orbit, and as its popularity grows, they will directly drive the formation of a novel industry.
Investors claim that space tourism will cause enormous benefits for humanity, including progress in technological advancement and scientific research. Other tourism benefits include:
Creating a new market will drive competition among businesses that want to be industry leaders.
The motivation for scientific research is created by consumer demand for innovative technologies specifically for space travel.
It will motivate innovation as researchers develop solutions to challenges in sending everyday people to outer space, e.g., comfortable spacecraft.
Other advantages of space tourism include:
- It increases employment opportunities through the creation of technical and scientific jobs.
- It helps to boost future generations’ interest in science and technology.
- It helps to improve our lives through more education and awareness of our surroundings.
- It may help to enhance co-operation and create links between countries worldwide.
- It helps develop outer space infrastructure through the creation of tourist facilities.
- It contributes to the economic activities through a country’s promotion and initiation of space tourism programs.
However, space tourism has great potential to have equally as many disadvantages. The main negative is its excessive pricing, it is not great for the environment, and despite coming a long way since the 1960s, space travel still has a high potential of going wrong.
Here are some of the disadvantages of space travel.
Not Accessible to All
The present cost and complexity of space travel are challenging. However, there are some issues to contemplate. First, it is extortionately expensive and, at this point in history, only accessible to the extremely wealthy.
However, as technology advances and more companies provide services, the cost will likely decrease, despite safety and comfort concerns. Tourists bold enough to sign up for a trip are only required to undertake specific safety training to cover the event of something going wrong during their journey. The likelihood of problems occurring while traveling to outer space is probable as it is an integrally dangerous pursuit.
As more tourists orbit Earth or visit space stations, guidelines should be developed and made compulsory so people are aware beforehand of what they could be getting into.
Contributes to Outer Space Pollution
“Space debris” is any non-functional object in outer space, including pieces of rockets, burnt-up satellites, or any other type of junk that has traveled into orbit. With more space tourists, the volume of debris will rise exponentially, which can become a problematic issue for astronauts and satellites.
Possible Violation of the Legal Principles of Outer Space
The five main legal principles concerning outer space include:
- No Environmental Harm in Outer Space
- Non-Harmful Use of Outer Space
- Non-Appropriation of Outer Space
- Freedom of Scientific Investigation
- Non-Military Use of Outer Space
All five standards require consideration when practicing space tourism. Unfortunately, there is no example for resolving these issues and finding a clear definition of space tourism. The risk is that profitable activity in orbital space will become more conventional, thus making it difficult to distinguish whether the operations are for-profit or scientific research.
There are no laws to prohibit commercial activity. However, the question remains of whether or not outer space can be commercially used at all.
Will We All Travel to Space One Day?
Space tourism is a commercially related space activity. It may include orbital, suborbital, lunar experiences, stargazing, rocket launch viewings, or visiting space-focused destinations. Space travel has several advantages, including enhanced well-being, increased scientific interest, and economic benefits. However, traveling to space should not be taken lightly, and when considering the future of space tourism, it’s essential to consider the potential risks that may impact us directly.
For the moment, unfortunately, space admittance is more accessible to an elite class of billionaires and millionaires. However, key players such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX compete to make space more accessible. Perhaps one day, we’ll all take a trip to space. Unfortunately, the industry has shown no fundamental physics or engineering reason that the space travel costs should be much different than conventional air travel between countries.