Space Tourism and Space Power at the IAF Congress
by Patrick Collins
Space Tourism Session Shows Up Folly of Current Space Leadership
Eight excellent papers concerning various aspects of space tourism were presented to an audience of about 100 people in the session "Space Tourism and other Novel Space Applications" held on October 7th at the 50th IAF Congress in Amsterdam. (There were no other topics.)
"A Parametric Investigation of the Economics of Space Tourism" by Bob Parkinson of Matra Marconi Space describes ongoing work on the business feasibility of space tourism, focusing on developing space tourism business plans that "close", combining believable cost estimates with believable price and traffic estimates.
"Public Access Space Suit" by Mark Hempsell of Bristol University (and BIS President), examines the possibility of having passengers wear (simplified) space-suits as a candidate counter-measure to the risk of cabin depressurisation during flights to and from orbit. It points out that if the same suits were used for space-walks and as emergency equipment by guests in space hotels, a range of cost-savings could be achieved.
"Collaboration with Aviation: The Key to Commercialisation of Space Activities" by Patrick Collins of Azabu University and NASDA & Yoshiyuki Funatsu, JRS Research Committee Chairman, considers the difference between the positive attitude of the aviation industry to space tourism, and the continuing negative attitude of the space industry, and concludes that collaboration with aviation - or if necessary taking money from the space agencies and giving it to the aviation industry to develop a commercial passenger space travel industry - will be economically beneficial, and will gain the best return for taxpayers' enormous investment in space technology development.
"A Draft of Safety Standard for Designing Space Tour Vehicles" by Koichi Yonemoto of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, T Torikai of Fuji Aerospace Technology Corporation, and A Miyahara of Fuji Heavy Industries gives a status report on the work of the 3rd phase of the Transportation Research Committee of the Japanese Rocket Society's Space Tourism Study Program. This has involved 2 years study of the application of aviation airworthiness regulations to the "Kankoh-maru" vertical-take-off-and-landing, passenger-carrying reference vehicle, which is described in a series of papers (many of which are in the Space Future archive). The Final Report, due out soon, will give a first draft of a "spaceworthiness" standard which will feed back into a design review of Kankoh-maru.
"Public Access to Space" by Hartmut Muller of Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace describes the work carried out in Daimler-Chrysler's in-house space tourism study over the past year, including design of a launch vehicle passenger-cabin for 120 people and a rotating orbital hotel for 220 guests and 80 staff to operate at an altitude of 300-350 km. The paper makes a "first pass review of most aspects of the scenario, from safety procedures and standards to guest accommodation and entertainment, as well as the bottom line. With promising results it further emphasises the strange situation that it is companies in other countries than the USA that are setting the pace in this field, as mainstream US aerospace industry seem paralysed by NASA's lack of interest in making space accessible to the general public.
"Considerations for Passenger Transport by Advanced Spaceplanes" by John Scott-Scott of Reaction Engines Ltd describes work over the past year at Reaction Engines Ltd to configure the payload bay of their winged single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) launch vehicle for passenger-carrying. Thinking through all aspects of operating the vehicle's flights to and from orbit as passenger flights raises a range of interesting questions about the best design approach to take on different technical issues.
"The Future of Space Tourism" by Michael Reichert of the German government's DLR describes work carried out to evaluate the feasibility of space tourism, being a small part (about 10%) of an ESA contract considering several candidate future activities. It looks at sub-orbital tourism based on both Bristol Spaceplanes' "Ascender" and a vertical-take-off vehicle; orbital tourism based on the Japanese Rocket Society's "Kankoh-maru"; and orbital accommodation based on the "Space Hotel Berlin" and "Space Hotel Europe" designs that use mainly components developed for the international space station. The conclusions are positive and suggest that space tourism has a bright economic future - which makes ESA's decision <B>not to fund any further study of the subject</B> more than a little interesting! (see below)
"Tour for Staying in Orbital Space" by N Isome of Shimizu Corporation describes work carried out in-house at Shimizu on possible precursors to their well-known design for a rotating space hotel published in 1989. The new "Space Hut" would use primarily modules, nodes and other components, technologies and know-how that are being developed for the Japanese portion of the International Space Station, and has both zero-gravity and rotating versions. All that's lacking is a company offering low-cost passenger flights to and from low orbit and they'll be in business - with Daimler-Chrysler (see above).
It is excellent to see this high-quality professional work being carried out in several different countries on these issues, all of which are of interest and importance for realising space tourism. It is a sign of the great progress that has been made that a session on this theme is now held at the annual IAF Congress. However, there's still a great deal more to be done. First, it would be good to see some US companies contributing! But it's rumoured that that would risk losing favour with NASA's current generation of leaders. It's also sad that this work still has to be done on shoe-string budgets, because of the strange fact that those who decide the allocation of government space spending continue not to support the work that has greatest economic value - and greatest popularity with the taxpayer.
Put another way, it is clearly not satisfactory that, while the advanced countries' space agencies spend $20 billion of taxpayer funds every year on a range of unprofitable space technology development activities (separate from space science research), barely 1/1000 of 1% of this funding is used to support work on passenger space travel - although only the development of space tourism is going to enable space activities to earn a return on the vast investment that taxpayers continually pay for! Even 1% of 1% of this huge annual funding would enable work on many aspects of this subject to leap forward.
This extraordinary misallocation of funding shows that, sadly, the interests of the general public are of almost no concern whatever to the leaders of the government-funded space industry as of 1999 - the end of the 20th century, and 10 years after the end of the cold war. We must hope for more enlightened leadership in 2000 and beyond. And we can be sure that the longer this truly absurd situation is allowed to continue, the more savage the backlash will ultimately be against the space agencies which are collectively wasting such massive quantities of taxpayers' time and money.
Several other papers presented at other IAF sessions were either directly or indirectly relevant to the development of space tourism. Many of the papers presented in sessions covering space transportation and propulsion concern expendable launch systems or reusable launch vehicle concepts for satellite launch, most of which are unprofitable without government subsidies, and have little connection with the fully-reusable, passenger-carrying launch systems that are going to open space to the public. However, some papers presented were relevant, notably "A Concept Study and Flight Testing of Fully Reusable Rocket" by Y Inatani and colleagues at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), which describes the Japanese "Mini DC-X" - a small-scale, liquid-hydrogen-rocket-engine-powered, reusable, vertical-take-off-and-landing rocket which flew in March 1999, having been developed using the tiniest of budgets.
Japan's first reusable rocket: experimental VTOL flying on March 25, 1999 at Noshiro, Japan (picture kindly offered by Spacefuture, see also this paper for other informations)
A number of papers presented at sessions of the International Institute for Space Law (IISL) were also relevant. "International Certification for Commercial Reusable Space Transportation" by William Gaubatz of Universal Spacelines discusses the regulatory framework needed for a commercial space travel industry, and invites the IISL to collaborate with the aviation world in developing it.
"Regulated Competition in Telecommunications and the Development of the Commercial Space Industry" by Anders Hansson of Reaction Engines Ltd and S McGuire of London University's Royal Holloway College describes the international trade rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which are relevant because the space tourism industry, like all other industries, will have to follow these regulations.
Sessions on commercialisation and financing of space activities also contained several papers relevant to the development of commercial space travel services.
Space Power Power from Space was the subject of papers presented in 3 sessions organised by the IAF Power Committee. These covered a wide range of topics, from engineering details of power generation, processing and beaming in space to long-term energy supply planning. Several papers described some of the wide range of work that is currently being done under contract to NASA using the increased funding of $15 million that the US Congress insisted that NASA use for SPS work. It is to be hoped that this funding will continue.
For Space Future, by far the most important objective in this field is to start - to actually build an SPS, and start to accumulate operating experience. This would enable the electricity supply industry to participate in SPS work and to evaluate SPS as a new power system. "An Equatorial SPS Pilot Plant" by Hideo Matsuoka of Teikyo Heisei University, Professor Makoto Nagatomo of the Institute for Space and Astronautical Science, and Patrick Collins of Azabu University and NASDA concerns the "SPS 2000" project designed to do just this, and summarises current discussions concerning possible international collaboration in realising it It is hoped that a political initiative will be taken to provide the resources necessary to give SPS work this boost in the near future.
The truth is that the economic value of the work presented on these two subjects - space tourism and space power - is greater than that of all the other papers at the IAF Congress. So it is strange, to say the least, that 99.99% of government space expenditure is used on all the other subjects.
The most elementary calculation shows that the economic value of work that could lead to the development of profitable commercial industries generating hundreds of $billions/year in revenues is far greater than that of activities that will never do so. Consequently the use of even a large part of government space spending to generate this wealth would be beneficial to taxpayers.
But today's space industry decision-makers are not concerned about earning an economic return for the taxpayers who provide the $20 billion they use every year on activities other than science research: they're very comfortable continuing to pursue the (conveniently vague) political goals established during the cold war that ended 10 years ago. Government organisations are always slow to react to changing circumstances, and we must keep pressing to ensure that the new generation of leaders will have more concern for the public, the taxpayer, the people and the future than for the out-dated agenda of those in charge today.
World Economy Finally it's worth pointing out again that unemployment in Japan, Germany, France - not to mention Russia, China and many other countries in Europe, Asia and South America (!) - is stuck at record levels. This isn't because of the failure of economic growth, but because of its success. There's no longer any need for so many people in these countries to work at all the things they used to. It's cheaper to let machines do ever more of that work. But to avoid consequent ever-growing unemployment, with all the social ills to which that leads (including war, remember) new industries need to be established.
One of the most promising new fields is unquestionably the development of space tourism and the limitless range of business activities in space which this will stimulate. But the possibility is being stifled by the refusal of those who allocate the $20 billion of taxpayers' money spent every year on non-science-research space activities to support work leading in this direction. For example, the current ESA leadership considers that the use of the 1/1000th of 1% of one year's budget that they've spent on space tourism is enough - and NASA refuses to follow its own recommendations in NP-1998-03-11-MSFC - although neither agency have any other proposals about how the massive accumulated expenditures on space technology development might actually contribute to economic growth. This has to change..... and it will. It just remains to be seen how many more tens of $billions of taxpayers' money today's space leadership will waste before the human race is allowed to benefit from the growth of commercial space travel in near-Earth space.