NEW FRONTIERS OF TOURISM: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL SPACE

by Pierluigi Polignano (with a comment by Dr. Patrick Collins)

7.52 May 20th 1927 and 6.47 June 21st; Charles Lindbergh and Mike Melville; Paris-New York and Los Angeles-100km height(1) (a near LEO, sub-orbital, altitude): two historical dates that will be remembered for a long time.

Following in Raymond Oirteg's footsteps, in 1996 Peter Diamandis, an engineer, scientist and business man, shouts a challenge from St. Louis: the X-Prize. Thus, 25 corporations were issued to lead the way of Space for the big audience.

In 1968 Stanley Kubrick, with his film 2001: Space Odyssey and its protagonists, Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Hal 9000, foresaw a future in which men could travel around the earth and in space with hi-Tec vehicles. Thanks to the boom of the movie, the Pan Am Corporation, which represented the filmic NASA, gained 93000 bookings: future was really approaching.

40 years have passed and Space seems to be even nearer, thanks also to private corporations which are demonstrating that a vast amount of money isn't indispensable to fly away anymore, but only passion and strong will.

A not-well-known and often undervalued section in this research contest is tourism(6): during the years it has become the real possibility, the solution for all the problems. Nowadays, traveling in Space can be regarded as a "tourist product" itself, because it has got all the needed characteristics: it's distinct, so easily recognizable, and already varied in the offers. Thus, it's possible to choose among to lot of activities, such as the" earth activities" (the sight of Shuttle and Soyuz launches, the Neutral Buoyancy, the Centrifuge, the simulation of to Soyuz launch), the Zero-G flights, the military jet flights, sub-orbital (still in test (2)) and orbital trips. Till now, these last offers have been exclusive rights of Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth.

In the last decade, marketing researches have been done, demonstrating a common will to experiment this new kind of tourism which is able to excite fantasy in the audience. The first of these researches has been done in Japan in summer 1993, with the collaboration of NASDA and Tokyo University. Then several studies have followed, called "standard studies", using the same analysis method in order to compare the results worldwide. The other countries involved were Germany, U.S.A., Canada and Great Britain, which had high growth and employment rates, a strong currency in international markets, a high per capita income and a common will and inclination to tourist phenomenon, a part from very different cultural characteristics, necessary for the comparisons of the research. These investigations are all quantitative, carried out by interview in the most important cities; the questionnaire were multiple choices forms, easily understandable in order to help the interlocutors. The standard measure was constructed on the stratified random method, so earlier divided per age and socio-economic group. 

The collected statistics show that the most enthusiastic are Japaneses (70%), followed by Americans and Canadians (61%) and then by British (58%); in the same proportions the younger audience is the most inclined.

Abitzsch, who carried out the researches in Germany in 1994, thinks that although the statistics follow the average world trend, the German aversion to this phenomenon is to be traced in the life style, conservator and not inclined to innovation. Moreover, he thinks that the German data are indicative for the whole continental Europe.

Analyzing the statistics included in Collins, Stockmans and Maita's study "Demand for Space Tourism in America and Japan and its implications for Future Space Activities"(7), a result appears really important: if the ticket price for two days was less than 10.000 dollars, 500.000 American tourists would be ready to leave; and even more, NASA confirms that the turnover of the whole sector will be almost 16 billion Euros in the next five years. 

These data are also burden of the significant cultural differences among consumers: in facts, Japans, tend to save money and invest more, spending big amounts in education, traveling abroad and weddings, things that are really rooted in their culture, showing a trend completely opposite to the western one(3). Japaneses again, unlike Americans and Europeans, have a generalized and uniform distribution of income, thus it is probable that space tourism in its earlier phases won't be developed very much in the island, to spread on large scale in its maturity. 

Comparing these investigations with the ones already done for tourist commercial developments, different phases have been pointed out regarding the orbital flights.

The first pioneering phase would concern the so-called "nabobs", inclined to adventure tourism and interested to explore the so-called last frontier. Board conditions would be not at the maximum comfort and the ticket price, including six days on earth in order to complete bureaucratic formalities, should cost between 100.000 and 1 million dollars. 

During the developing phase, the ticket price should be still too high, between 100.000 and 10.000 dollars. It will be considered a journey for few people, becoming a new era status-symbol. The quality of the service, the entertainment, comforts and food will be the fundamental characteristics.

Then, the mature phase will begin, with the slump of the ticket price (between 2.000 and 10.000 dollars) and a high percentage of world population will at least have this amazing experience without wasting the money of an entire life.

Of course, these phases have been analyzed and thought considering the fact that the journey should last at least 24 hours. It's presumed that, at this point, competition will be keen and space tourism really more varied than it is nowadays.

In this last range of hypothesis, new journeys, lasting few days, will be planned: Shimizu Corporation, a Japanese society specialized in extreme architectures, should build an orbital hotel, for 200 people, 60.000 euros per weekend, in 20 years.

The Shimizu space hotel

This hotel will orbit 450 km far from the earth, will have 64 extra-luxury rooms, with inducted gravity obtained with rotatory movement. 

Then, lunar and planetary hotels will be built, but this kind of offer should develop only when the market will be really mature and all technologies will allow such incredible structures, "probably around 2030", says(8) Patrick Collins(5) (SpaceFuture), one of the most important experts of Space Tourism in the world.

Although the world market has answered with great results, it's necessary to go on making the public aware of the topic in different ways, such as theme parks, museums, videogames, films, reportages, television programs, historical tv specials, flight or activities simulators, weeks of training to space flights, meetings, lessons at school or university, just as is occurring at George Washington University, in Washington D.C. A lot of different projects are being discussed and shown, for example the one by Wat&G, an American architecture research center, using more than ten Shuttle tanks, which generally are burnt during the re-entry of the space-ship.

The Wat&G's project

We don't have to forget that ISS has already hosted the first two "astro-tourists" in the world, by attaching a particular module to the ship, so it can be considered the pioneer in this sector, that even NASA has been interested in the event.

Architect Favatà at Florence University, has presented a plan about inflatable modules(4), hooked at ISS in order to contain the possible tourists, and other geo-stationary platforms. The Italian project provides four different levels, three for housing and one for machines, hosting 12 people, perfect number for an expressive social life. 

In every single module, which symbolically represent the Earth, the Moon and the Sun, it'd be possible to do different social activities with different levels of gravity. Moreover, there would be a restaurant, a disco, a multimedia area and a medical center on board.

About this particular section, Patrick Collins points at the similarities between orbital hotels, which in the mature phase will boom, and cruises ships. He believes that all the services now available on the ships will be common comforts on the orbital hotels(9), but comparing them with the Shimizu or Hilton Hotel planning, they would seem only modest guest-houses. 

In facts, beyond the gorgeous project of the orbital hotel, already described ahead, Shimizu Organization wants to build lunar laboratories and hotels using local raw materials. Nishimatsu and Obayashi completely agree: these are Japanese societies which have already invested (it's appropriate to say!) astronomical amounts of money.  

Nishimatsu Construction Corporation has planned to build a mega-resort, with the shape of three giant shells: Escargot City, snail city. Obayashi Corporation, on the contrary, is planning a self-sufficient lunar farm, able to host 10.000 people, with fields, gardens and orchards for the living.

"Enjoy a martini and watch the stars": that's the slogan by Hilton, which in a first time planned its orbital hotel in collaboration with Cornell University. It was structured on three levels, for machines, rooms (almost 100) and public areas, each of them divided from the others and pressurized; no elevators were provided to minimize consumes and a large part of the hotel was used for medical services. Few years ago, this plan was abandoned, thanks also to the British architect Peter Inston, and substituted with the Lunar Hilton Hotel, a lunar building which for dimension and luxury could conglobe the Las Vegas MGM, the biggest hotel in the world.

The building would be of two 160m high towers, hosting 400 people, customers and staff, or more incredibly, a skyscraper of 325m for 5.000 people, with an artificial lake of lunar water (obtained by lunar rocks). The loss of wind and the low gravity, almost 1/6 of earth one, help to build this kind of gorgeous structures with few raw materials, furthermore obtained by lunar ground. The real problems seem to be high temperatures (100°C in the sun and -150°C in the shadow), cosmic radiations and micro-meteorites: to avoid troubles the walls of future hotels will be of glasses able to absorb radiations and maintain constant temperatures inside the building.

Too much optimism? In Sean O'Keefe's opinion, director of NASA, it is not. During a press-conference dedicated to Spirit, the rover "hanging around" on Mars, he confirmed that using the Moon as base for exploration on the Solar System would advantage the whole world population. Paul Van Susante, an engineer at Colorado School of Mines as planner of lunar structures, agrees with him adding that the first lunar tourist buildings will be available not before 2050. 

There is still a kind of confusion about the timing of the different phases, but everyone agrees that space tourism will have a really important social function: the dream-like vision of the Earth would probably make the people aware of all the problems that are destroying it, such as pollution and wars. Psychologists have linked this new kind of sensitivity to the brightness of the Earth from that unusual point of view that space offers: our planet seems shining in the black dark universe that surrounds those who travel for few days 400km high, so a kind of nostalgia is due to the fear that someone has felt in those situations.

Proportionally to the growth of tourist market and to the development of more comfortable and luxurious hotels, there will be the increase of pleasure and fun structures. Orbital facilities will improve in size and sophistication and the facilities will have the most important role in the competition to attract customers. 

Different kinds of sport facilities have been planned but the most singular seems to be the zero G swimming pool(10): 10 m of diameter, 8 m large and 2m deep, all perfect to allow team games.

A characteristic soon discovered by the authors is the complete absence of natural buoyancy, even if a minimum of gravity force should be artificially created for security problems. Zero G swimming pools will be assembled with standard modules and completely isolated from the rest of the building. The only problem found is the transport from the Earth of the most important component of the facility, water. Almost 600m3 and a mass of 600 tons of water are needed, the cost of this venture will be at least of 280 million dollars.

Just like swimming pools, also gyms(11) are being planned: cyclette, tapis-roulant and leg extension were already part of ISS and MIR, because muscles, moreover the leg ones, suffer on board for the lack of gravity, so they lose tone and it's necessary to do some kind of sport. On such subject, see also the MARES ESA project (Muscle Atrophy Research & Excercise System), coordinated by the Italian scientist Dr. Paolo Barattini.

These facilities are planned concerning the lunar hotels but also within the structures of orbital hotels, from which they will receive all services needed.

Gravity in this area will be 1G (just as on Earth); the structure will be built assembling memory steel sheets, known for being really ductile and easy to be carried. The cost of the operation would be 20 million dollars, launch included.

Orbital Sport Stadium

The most ambitious project has been planned, as usual, by Patrick Collins in collaboration with Fukuoka e Nishimura. They have designed a stadium(12): it will be really useful in order to create new kind of sports in absence of gravity, like zero G soccer. 

The structure will be built with the same techniques used for the gym and the swimming pool, 100m long and 60m large but, for its big volume, it needs incremental security requirements. 

The whole stadium will be completely isolated by internal air bearings which will preserve the structure from accidents that could happen during the flight.

But let's make some calculation. Considering a really cheap launch cost of 200 dollars per kg and an area of 19000 m2 at a volume of 230000 m3 per stadium, the valuable total cost should be almost 300 million dollars, to which you have to add the price for assemblage, not yet completely valuable, probably of equal value of the transportation. 

Routine maintenance will cost 3% of initial assembling price (let's suppose 9 million $), the staff (40 people) almost 100.000 $ per capita per year (gross salary), their settlement and transportation 1 million dollars: all these costs must be added to the initial 600 million dollars, for transport and assemblage. 

The annual break- event point will be of 165 million dollars per year (almost 450.000 $ per day), which half the amount of all businesses during the Super Bowl, the biggest American sport event followed all around the world.

Well, it is only the dawn of a new market development and we can only be proud and enthusiastic of such new and exciting prospects!

EDITORIAL NOTES:

(1)  The Low Earth Orbit (LEO for friends) is considered from 200 to 500 miles (320 to 800 kilometers), even if I saw schemes extending it from 100 to 1000 miles (160 to 1600 kilometers). In order not to fall, spacecrafts in LEO shall run at 27.000 kms per hour. SpaceShipOne reached 100 kms with a parabolic trajectory, flying at the maximum speed of mach 3.5 (3720 kms per hour). ISS is orbiting now (July 2004) at less than 360 kms, running at 28.000 kms per hour. ISS needs frequent re-boosts, in order not to fall under the LEO inferior limit.  

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(2) 

The testing phase can be defined as that little step before commercializing a product, when every single detail checked, studied and analyzed in the previous research phase must be “tuned up”. As to SpaceShipOne, Burt Rutan declared that it is a prototype, not certified (and therefore surely not validated for the regular transport of civil passengers), that he doesn't want to spend the 3-400 million US$ necessary for the certification, and that he will be happy to produce the parts for some certified assemblers, willing to start an industrial production. Let's admit that, around Scaled Composites, there is a certain movement and enthusiasm, and that interested, pragmatist investors do exist. However a sub-orbital flyer, ready to embark paying passenger next autumn is very unlikely! A. Autino 

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(3) 

The Japanese interest for space and astronautics is, not since today, very more advanced, wrt the one of the other Earthlings. It is a very more concretely expansionist interest, targeted to eso-industrial development, vs. the science and exploration centered strategies (Nasa) and the terrocentric ones, based on telecommunications and observation of the Earth (ESA). Such attitude is mainly due to the environment in which the Japanese industrial development took place: the most "compressed" environment of the planet. An island people, experimenting for long time a dramatic situation of shortage of vital space for their own (natural) propensity to growth: a kind of "simulation" of the situation in which the whole human civilization will find itself in not so many decades? A. Autino

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(4) 

The inflatable modules are everything but simple, and I don't see, at least in a first phase, a possible use of them for low-cost solutions. In perspective they will bring an important downsizing of the space missions cost. But, between now and then there is a technological development that many people underestimate, if not completely ignore. ASI (the Italian Space Agency) started a project to hook an inflatable habitable module to ISS in 3 years (provided that ASI succeeds however in stirring in a whatever direction, considering that it is paralyzed since 3 years). Who spent 25 years in searches on the inflatable technologies (the Swiss Oerlikon Contraves) recently quitted such search, judging it too much expensive for its own resources, and not enough financed by ESA. The (Swiss) chemical firms that, 10 or 15 years ago, created, on commitment, the first inflatable material to realize parabolic reflecting antennas, don't exist anymore today. That know-how probably is lost and should be reinvented (more or less as the lunar vehicles), as well as the precious ground testing statistic experience. Someone pretends here to fly an habitable module in 3 years! I think very unlikely that gossamer structures can be used in the pioneer times of space tourism. Especially if we think that, until now, neither an inflatable handkerchief did not fly on ISS (thing that is possible since years, in a "piggy payload" style, or with a very small expense). Later (once technologies will be validated, and facts the necessary flight tests will be made) the thing is perfectly reasonable, also thinking to another "heavy" problem, of the space flight in general terms: the one of the protection from hard cosmic radiations. Inflatable structures, layered of different materials, using water in the interspaces, we could perhaps get a best protection, vs. the one guaranteed by metals: the only really shielding metal is in fact the lead (that really shields because it is very heavy). A. Autino

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(5) 

Dr. Patrick Collins issued is popular picture, of the 2030 space tourism industry, in 1999. We asked to him to make the point of the situation today: does he still think that we will have lunar hotels in 2030? See Patrick's reply here. A. Autino

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OTHER REFERENCES

(6)

Dr. Patrick Q. Collins, 2004 - "Space Tourism: Recent Progress and Future Prospects" - Invited Paper Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF-2004) 

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(7)

R Stockmans, P Collins & M Maita, 1995, "Demand for Space Tourism in America and Japan, and its Implications for Future Space Activities"

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(8)

Dr. Patrick Q. Collins, 1999 - "Space Activities, Space Tourism and Economic Growth" - 2nd International Symposium on Space Tourism, Bremen, April 21-23 1999 

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(9)

S Fawkes* and P Collins, 1999 - "Space Hotels: The Cruise Ship Analogy" - 2nd International Symposium on Space Tourism, Bremen, April 21-23 1999  

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(10)

Patrick Collins, Sunao Kuwahara, Tsuyoshi Nishimura & Takashi Fukuoka, 1998 - "Artificial-Gravity Swimming-Pool

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(11)

S Kuwahara, P Collins, T Fukuoka, T Nishimura & S Kuwahara, 1996, "Design and Construction of Zero-Gravity Gymnasium", Engineering Construction and Operations in Space V, American Society of Civil Engineers, in press.

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(12)

P Collins, T Fukuoka & T Nishimura, 2000, "Orbital Sports Stadium", Proceedings of Space 2000 

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English translation (except notes): Roberta La Guardia 

[020.PP.TDF.2004 - 14.07.2004]