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Space tourism is not a dream anymore from Travel Daily News

Philip J. Clarkson President and CEO of The Space Miles Corporation of America Ltd. analyzes in TravelDailyNews how space tourism is now a reality as well as the major players and the most ‘hot’ aspects of the space tourism industry.


TravelDailyNews: Is space tourism a reality or remains into the sphere of science fiction?
Philip J. Clarkson: Many may have considered the concept of Space Tourism to be solely within the realms of science fiction but the true story is significantly different. Space Tourism is on the threshold of becoming an every day reality. It is fair to say that when the concept was initially proposed it was viewed with equal amounts of enthusiasm and scepticism. But that was some years ago. Thanks to an ever growing group of adherents and some very wealthy, influential individuals, the technology has forged forward and, primarily in The US, the political climate has changed to promote the new industry. It is probably accurate to say that The US Commercialization of Space Act 2002 heralded the acceleration of interest, finance, and sheer determination amongst those dedicated to make it all happen. The exciting sentence to people like me, and I quote, was “Spaceflight may develop into a commercial airline style operation” says it all! This will open The Final frontier to all. Other countries however have been quick to follow on The US lead.
That having been said, the potential Space Tourist must recognize the considerable difference between sub-orbital and orbital spaceflight. In the short term, only sub-orbital flights could realistically be opened up to the commercial mass market place. In simple terms an orbital flight requires something in the order of eight times the propulsion power of a sub-orbital excursion; hence the rocketry alone is in a different order of magnitude.
Amongst other companies beginning to compete in the market place, it was the advent of Scaled Composites, controlled by Burt Rhutan creator of SpaceShipOne, which proved to the world that, with the development of new materials and technologies, more in alignment with the 21st century than existing modified 1960’s technology, that great strides of affordability can be achieved.
A sub-orbital flight will still take the paying passenger into space, will still allow the passenger to legally become an Astronaut, and will still give the participant that wondrous view of our planet and enable the observer to juxtapose earth with the real vastness of outer space. To some it may even be a religious experience. Roll on 2009, that’s when, all going well, the industry will launch itself.
TDN: How does the Space Miles card work and how will it benefit the future travelers?
P. C.: It is the very question of affordability that is addressed by The Space Miles Credit Card. There are two absolutes, A) Yes of course, initially a sub-orbital flight is bound to be expensive, figures of around $200,000 are bandied around, although in my opinion it will probably be a little less, even to begin with. B) The economics of scale are no less prevalent to the concept of Space Tourism than any other nascent activity. Fundamentally the more paying passengers/customers that exist, the cheaper it becomes.
Nevertheless it is never going to be cheap. Various pundits have suggested that after a period of consolidation the price could come down to as low as $20,000. In truth somewhere between $20/35,000 is probably where the industry will end up. Around the price of a middle-of-the-market automobile. For that, quite literally the trip of a lifetime.
Now to The Space Miles Credit Card. It is of course a savings scheme based upon the traditional Credit Card loyalty/cash-back business model. There are however some major departures.
The card will run parallel with a cardholders dedicated savings account which will have a tangible value and be redeemable against a whole variety of space related rewards, some minor, some more substantial, a number of which will be terrestrially based, and of course for the dedicated enthusiast, a real flight itself.
To enhance savings capability and customer ability to accumulate Space Miles we at Space Miles are working towards creating a major portal via spacemiles website whereby more Space Miles can be earned by ordering third party goods and services through the website and purchasing them with The Space Miles card. We will negotiate a discount with major suppliers of, for example, car hire companies, other travel/tour operators, hotel bookings, additionally maybe even chains of gas stations etc. The discounts that are achieved will be passed on to the Space Miles card account holder as additional Space Miles credits.
There will be a facility to aggregate Space Miles within a family for example. Mom, Dad Grandparents etc will be able to choose to aggregate their Space Miles to buy a birthday trip for nominated younger family members and so on.
Finally there will be an additional facility to trade existing miles/loyalty rewards into Space Miles via our ‘Milesmatch’ trading platform, under development at the moment. Quite simply; it has oft been reported that a vast number of sundry miles and loyalty points issued to and collected by customers worldwide are never encashed or liquidated.
We at Space Miles intend to provide our customers a platform to trade these sundry points into Space Miles. It is estimated that, in The UK alone some £2.0 billion sundry reward points, of varying values, are unclaimed. If just 10% of those disregarded points were to be converted into Space Miles, now that would kick start the industry!
Finally there is an additional perverse advantage to the concept of Space Miles as a whole. The more collectors we attract the more the financial institutions will be able to predict demand. With a quantifiable, predictable demand, as measured by the number of our members, hopefully more investment will be made available to the industry and the classic laws of supply and demand and mass interest will drive prices down even more.
TDN: Which companies are showing interest in making space trips for the general public and with which are you cooperating?
P. C.: At the moment the industry may appear a little fragmented, being loosely divided into designers, constructors, ship operators and tour operators. However to be fair one would expect this initial sort of hotchpotch, but slowly consolidation will occur and enduring partnerships will be formed. Space Miles has had tentative talks with Space Adventures of Arlington Virginia, additionally we are aware of Incredible Adventures. As I firmly believe however, that Space Miles might hold the key to the do the mass affordability of Space Tourism, we can afford to hold back any serious commitment in order to secure the best deals for our customers. I have however had some serious discussions with Wes Baker, CEO Pure Vacations and their subsidiary Pure Galactic. Wes and I appear to be singing from the same song sheet and I fully anticipate a real tie-up but we are still working on it.
As to the sexy end of the business, actually operating the space vehicles themselves. I see no real barrier, in the fullness of time, to Space Miles owning and operating our own Spacecraft. This would create a fully integrated Space Tourism vehicle, the savings scheme, the tour operator, and the fleet operator. This vertical approach in itself should afford savings to the potential Space Tourist. I have touched on this subject with Scaled Composites, but to no real avail. I have had constructive talks with David Ashford of Bristol Space Planes, David was one of the first serious proponents of a global Space Tourism industry and we have had a few interesting talks. But maybe that is a little down the line at present, all I will say is just wait and see!
TDN: How does the public sector contribute to make space tourism viable?
P. C.: Like most potential entrepreneurs I am not a great lover of that global, ambling leviathan that is called The Public Sector. However to be realistic I am not an anarchist either. Inevitably the Public Sector has to put into action, (especially in the case of a nascent Space Tourism Industry), and build an administrative framework for our aspirations to come true. In reality it has been the Public Sector that has held back Space Tourism, only ever believing in the past that Space Travel would be the sole province of Governments.
However, thanks to the pioneering spirit of some authorities, and I must specifically mention Rick Homans of The State of New Mexico, by name (whom I met briefly at the recent Royal Aerospace Society conference on Space Tourism held in London), and furthermore the authorities of Oklahoma, Florida, and The respective Government Agencies of Russia, Ukraine, Dubai and Singapore, the frameworks are being laid down in law.. Additionally India and Japan are actively pursuing the possibilities of direct involvement in Space Tourism. The new space age has begun in earnest.
TDN: When will it be possible for someone to travel to space and what is needed in order to go to space? How many passengers are estimated to travel to space per year?
P. C.: As to numbers, I believe that the only true limiting factor will be investment in the infrastructure and vehicles. Put in terms of simple arithmetic, I believe that if you multiply the number of licensed vehicles, by the frequency of flights per year by the number of passenger seats available, you reach the limitation! If those of us involved in the industry have got it right the doors will eventually be open to all those seriously interested. Remember that wherever the great explorers have gone, tourists have followed. Can anyone suggest to me any reason why Space should be any different?
TDN: Is this going to be only for wealthy people or are there plans for a complete commercial exploitation with space buses? Can you give us a price for a future ticket?
P. C.: As to the point regarding ‘Space Buses’ the fundamental overriding consideration of launching a vehicle into Space is, Payload (expressed in pounds weight) per Dollar. This, I believe, will create a limitation to the SpaceShipOne/SpaceShipTwo model in that the size of the space vehicle will be determined by the carrying capacity of the, White Knight ‘piggy back’ vehicle. SpaceShipTwo will be able to carry six paying passengers. I do not know the payload cut off point for the SS2 ‘piggy back’ aircraft, but I imagine that to actually have ‘Space Buses’ a totally different solution to sub-orbital flight will have to be created.
TDN: What was the outcome of the London Space Tourism Conference?
P. C.: The Royal Aeronautical Society conference was absolutely fascinating, but I must confess to having some reservations when it was first announced. Space Tourism being discussed seriously? In London? At the Royal Aeronautical Society? I thought, wow! Maybe, at last, a serious forum outside of The USA? On the other hand I did wonder if I was going to be in the, (albeit very pleasant), company of Geeks, Blue-sky thinkers and Space freaks. Imagine my surprise when I eventually saw the list of speakers and delegates? Politicians, Scientists, Engineers, Software Experts, Insurance Experts, Legal Experts, representatives from Space Agencies, Experts in Space Medicine, Journalists and of course, unashamedly the star of the show, Brian Binnie the astronaut that actually flew SpaceShipOne, need I go on?
The only sad omission, but in reality only to be expected, no Bankers, no Venture Capitalists. They probably haven’t figured out and drafted a security/mortgage document yet to completely eradicate any investment risks on their behalf.
London, one of the greatest financial centres in the world. Space Tourism, probably the greatest innovation in mass tourism since the advent of the aircraft, and no financiers! I won’t venture my opinion as to that fact. Maybe when there are twenty million Space Miles Credit Cards issued world wide, ivory towers will shrink?
A simple answer to the actual question. I think it inestimable, the promotional value that The RAeS has given to the industry and I hope maybe next year there will be a follow up conference. I was so impressed that I asked to join there and then, and to my surprise they accepted me as a member. Can’t argue with that!
TDN: Russia is launching a prototype inflatable spacecraft, as part of plans for a space hotel. How do US respond to this? Are we going to see similar products from other countries?
P. C.: The concept of a Space Hotel is quite clearly possible. It is just a large ‘guest friendly’ version of The ISS, (easier to say than do!). In fact the successful Russian/Ukrainian effort recently reported is a combination of East and West know-how. The actual ‘expandable module’, (named -Genesis-1), launched, is a structure designed and built by Bigelow Aerospace. For at least seven years now Bigelow Aerospace, owned and operated by Robert Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites of America Hotel Chain has been actively developing the concept. with some considerable expertise and success. Whilst I can only venture to suggest that this is a step towards the goal, it’s a hell of a big step! Congratulations to the teams involved.
About the same time ago Hilton Hotels were mooted to be actively working on a design being created by International Architects and Designers, Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo. To be fair I haven’t heard too much about their progress recently. As an aside, some years ago, I attempted to approach these organizations with a view to talking about Space Miles in general. They didn’t seem particularly interested in establishing a dialogue then. Maybe now Budget Suites and Hilton, would consider offering Space Miles as an incentive to their marketing? Who knows? Just a thought!
TDN: Which countries are the major players in this new segment of the tourism industry? Do you feel that there is going to be a strong competition?
P. C.: It is obvious that The USA and Russia, (along with The Ukraine, for historical reason) are the main players at this stage. In the future, who really knows? I think the announcement by both Singapore and Dubai to build commercial Spaceports will have a major impact on international thinking. If Governments don’t have to pay for the industry but still gain the prestige of being up with the pioneers, who knows?? I seriously anticipate China, India, and Japan will join the club, I guess Brazil will be in there some way along the line. Maybe in a hundred years or so even The UK might wake up!
TDN: When will the new legal framework regarding space tourism be in effect in US? What issues are still decelerating the process?
P. C.: The legal framework? Just like an exam, the hard questions at the end! There was a fascinating contribution on this subject at the RAeS Conference delivered by Darcy Beamer-Downie, a Lady Barrister, specializing in Space Law. Now that IS a woman succeeding in a man’s world!
To be honest, and all credit to her, she admitted that her necessarily dry discourse, being sandwiched between Rick Homan from New Mexico and Brian Binnie the Astronaut had to be quite short.
She naturally brought such terrestrial issues as safety, FAA regulation etc into the equation and no matter how complex these questions are, they can eventually be solved by any one nation state, internally. The problem, she explained, was that, due to long standing International Treaties, agreed during The Cold War, Space cannot be owned by any terrestrial institutions, be they national or private. So the Sovereignty of Space is nobody’s. Hence the dilemma: If no Sovereignty can be claimed, who can legislate?
This all stems that from the early 60’s when Governments never believed or anticipated that private individuals would go into space.
It appears that, for whatever reason, and I’ve no idea why, The Australian Government were the first to legislate the boundary of Space, set at 100 Km up. Well it appears that this seemed a good idea and nobody disagreed. Hence it is now internationally accepted that if you travel to 100.1 Km, you are an Astronaut. They could have just as easily made it 120Km, and probably still no one would have disagreed! Anyhow 100km it is.
So at 100Km, everything changes, we mortals that think we rule the universe clearly do not, well not in international law anyway.
This poses many hypothetical legal questions. If I am in Space and I commit a crime, who tries me? Probably the nation of the flag of the Spacecraft? Maybe? If I could stay up there forever: Nobody?
If I set up a Bank in Space and open an account and at the same time live permanently on a boat in international waters. Can any nation Tax me? If so, who?......I’m actually working on that one. So the paradox becomes clear.
Now it just so happens that my partners and I in Space Miles, are, or have been international Shipbrokers, (some eighty years experience between the three of us). We specialized in chartering, sale and purchase etc of ships. And, as Darcy pointed out, nearly all current Aviation Law stems originally from English Maritime Law.
Imagine a simple commercial voyage. A vessel of flag X is in a port of departure in country Y and is carrying passengers from countries A,B,C, and D. The vessel sails and after 12 miles it is in international waters, and then the process is reversed except that she docks in country Z? Well I won’t go on but the Flag of the vessel comes into the equation. Now on Earth these dilemmas have generally been sorted out over the years using English Maritime law as the basic template. But, can the Flag of a Spacecraft be enforced in a place where by international treaty there can be no claim to Sovereignty whatsoever?
Another problem was highlighted, and, using the SpaceShipOne model, I will try and explain.
So, White Knight is a registered aircraft in the normal sense. Sat on top of it is SS1. The supposition at this stage is that up to 50,000ft, (or whenever separation occurs) for all intents and purposes, especially insurance, the composite body is a plane.
On separation what does one have in law? Two aircraft or, an aircraft and a spaceship? It then gets worse, the portion that is the recognized spaceship will reach space, (where no currently operable commercial laws exist), before the aircraft lands. And so it goes on.
Well I guess that gives people a clue into the dilemmas and paradoxes. I don’t confess to have any of the answers, it’s difficult enough understanding the questions. All I do know is that barristers like Darcy will become extremely rich. I wonder if she’s single?
TDN: What are the challenges for the space tourism industry?
P. C.: Apart from the challenges outlined above, which I have no doubt man’s ingenuity will solve. The biggest problems I see are in Financing and Marketing. I believe that eventually Bankers will wake up, albeit belatedly, to the potential of Space Tourism. One problem however still haunts me. The ordinary guy in the street, the customers as it were, still are under the impression that all these activities will only be available in the distant future. They simply don’t realize we are on the edge. Maybe TravelDailyNews will spread the word.
Finally, and I really need to state this, once and for all, and thanks to TravelDailyNews for giving me the opportunity to clear up any confusion.
Space Miles and associated devices are registered Trade Marks owned exclusively by myself and my partners. We have absolutely have no connection whatsoever to any company owned and/or operated by Virgin Enterprises. That is; Virgin Enterprises, in what ever guise, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galactic Airways etc etc. And they cannot offer any of their clients Space Miles.