Which space companies are making space tourism a reality?

Not long ago, term space tourism was triggering mixed reactions – some would laugh, some would brush-off the idea. A lot of people would see space tourism as an unreachable goal or as something that’s currently beyond humanity’s capabilities.

However, the recent achievements by major space companies will make space tourism a reality in a couple of years – not decades, as some might have predicted. 

In theory, space tourism includes travel to orbital, suborbital or lunar territories, also atmospheric space tourism, which could allow people to take high-altitude flights to the opposite side of the world in the matter only an hour or two. For instance, travelling from London to Dubai would take only 30 minutes, even though the distance between them is 7152 kilometres! 

Now you might wonder – who are the main players in this growing field? 

One of the main companies, bringing space tourism closer to reality, is SpaceX. Founded in 2002 by engineer and businessman Elon Musk, the company became a significant actor in the space industry. The company’s goal is to reduce space transportation costs and ultimately bring humanity to Mars and beyond.  

Dragon spacecraft. Picture by SpaceX

Some of SpaceX’s achievements include being the first private company to send spacecraft and astronauts to the International Space Station, first to reuse an orbital rocket, to launch an object into orbit around the sun and becoming the largest commercial satellite constellation operator. 

The company’s plans for human spaceflight include Earth to Earth transportation with Starship and Super Heavy launch systems, flights to the International Space Station with the Dragon spacecraft, mission to the Moon and back, and mission to the fly to the Mars and back.  

Starship spacecraft. Picture by SpaceX

During the autumn of 2018, SpaceX announced that the company’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon in 2023 will be the Japanese art collector and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa. More information about the company’s ambitious human spaceflight missions can be found on the SpaceX website

Another company creating solutions for commercial space flights is Blue Origin, launched in 2000 by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The American company’s mission is to create a road to space with reusable launch vehicles and lower the cost of access to space travel.  

New Shepard rocket on the launch pad. Picture by Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s main project is New Shepard – a reusable suborbital rocket system which will take humans past the Kármán line – the boundary of space, which is 100 km up from the sea-level. The flight with the New Shepard would last 11 minutes. 

Other projects by Blue Origin are New Glenn, an orbital reusable launch vehicle, which is designed for 25 flights, and Blue Moon, a lander delivering cargo or crew to the surface of the Moon. You can learn more about Blue Origin’s vision and projects in their website

Jeff Bezos introducing Blue Moon lander in 2019. Picture by Blue Origin

The third major private space company is Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson. The British company mainly concentrates on developing commercial spacecraft and providing suborbital spaceflights enabling space tourism. 

The main spacecraft developed by the company is SpaceShipTwo, which is a reusable vehicle designed to carry 6 passengers and two pilots to an altitude of about 100 kilometres. Virgin Galactic is already allowing reserving the tickets for their flights which would last around 5 minutes and cost $250.000, and some people already have their tickets.  

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo fly over the San Francisco Bay. Picture by Virgin Galactic

One of the persons who already have a Virgin Galactic ticket to space is a 61-year-old Ketty Maisonrouge. The enthusiastic business school professor has waited 15 years for her trip. She signed up for this special one-time experience of five minutes in zero gravity in 2005. If you want to know how Ketty and other passengers will reach the space, visit the Virgin Galactic website

SpaceShipTwo interior. Picture by Virgin Galactic

The competition between these space businesses and growing interest in space tourism from the public is leading to significant technological developments and accessibility of commercial space travel. All major space companies share the same goal – to reduce the costs of their space tourism services once operational, making the tickets affordable for more people.  

Render of the Aurora Station. Picture by Orion Span

The enthusiasts that wouldn’t find a regular flight to space adventurous enough, might have a chance to stay in space longer soon. In 2018, an American aerospace startup Orion Span announced a concept of a luxury space hotel named Aurora Station, which would orbit 320 kilometres above the earth. Four passengers would be able to stay in the hotel during a 12-day trip and it would cost approximately 7 million euros per person. 

Many followers of space industry news are eager to see the space tourism becoming a fully operating field, and all the signals lead to believe that this modern space race is coming to an end – soon you will witness history as commercial space travel will lift-off. 

By Stefani Vasileva, Tourism and Event Management student, Haaga-Helia UAS

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