Dr Maharaj Vijay Reddy works for Coventry University’s Research Centre for Business in Society (CBiS). His research indicates that space tourism would attract travellers who are interested in doing something new and unusual from the adventure tourism sphere as well as the established space-related interests such as viewing the earth from space and experiencing weightlessness rather than for scientific purposes. In an exclusive interview with Asian Voice, he spoke about “Space Tourism”.
When and how did the idea of space tourism emerge?
The fascinating interest to travel to outer space existed for centuries and we have seen these in many movies. For instance, Dara Singh from Bollywood acted as an astronaut and travelled to the moon in a blockbuster space movie, Chand Par Chadayee, which was released in 1967 - two years before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. The space market including manufacturing and launching of earth observation satellites, communication satellites and transportation of crew and cargo has existed since the 1970s.
However, the idea of commercial space travel or space tourism became a reality when Dennis Tito, an American engineer and entrepreneur, travelled first in 2001. Russia first gave the opportunity for Dennis Tito on its Soyuz rocket and created the beginning of orbital space tourism. By paying some US$ 20 million, Dennis visited the International Space Station (ISS), which is orbiting 400 kilometres above the earth, moving at a speed of 700 kilometres per second. Dennis spent nearly eight days in the ISS.
Exactly 20 years after Dennis Tito’s space tip, the Russian Soyuz and Chinese Shenzhou spacecrafts are regarded as suitable for human travel although several entrepreneurs are involved in the manufacture and testing of commercial spacecrafts for sub-orbital commercial trips, including Richard Branson Virgin Galactic (horizontal launch) and Jeff Bezos Blue Origin (vertical launch). Virgin Galactic has quoted a price of US$250,000. Elon Musk's SpaceX company is also into the space tourism competition, but its plans involve journeys that are far longer and the costs are also predicted to be around US$50 million.
What is the potential market for space tourists/customers?
Because of successful Indian and Chinese satellite operations and space explorations, potential millionaire tourists tend to be aware of space tourism opportunities. Internationally, the demand for space tourism is high in fast-developing countries such as China and India. In addition, the United Arab Emirates also have made big investments to develop space tourism. The space tourism market is expected to follow a growth similar to products that offer a new capability; for example, air travel, mobile phones and personal computers. Some of us envisage four phases of space tourism development from 2001 to 2040 and beyond. Our research findings from the UK (South West England) and India (Mumbai) indicate that the risk involved and safety of private spacecrafts represent the core part of the space travel participants’ concerns as of now and are perhaps the most challenging issue faced by the global space tourism industry.
What does this mean for the current world economic market?
The rapid development of the space tourism industry sends positive vibes for the world’s economic situation, which is under great stress recently for a number of reasons, including the Covid19 pandemic. The Space Industry was valued at US$ 360 billion in 2018 and is projected to grow to over US$ 550 billion by 2026.
Most of the space tourism jobs are expected to be highly paid when compared to traditional airline and tourism industries. For instance, bringing Virgin Galactic from the United States to Britain could create up to 2000 highly paid jobs. When the space travel cost becomes affordable for the masses, the global business potential and growth of commercial space tourism is expected to be super-fast than the traditional space industry and its projected growth.
Internationally, the United States, Russia, UK, European Union, China, India, UAE, Japan and South Korea are expected to utilise the early economic opportunities.
How will space tourism change or affect markets and relationships among countries like the UK, India and China?
The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Treaty, developed in the 1960s, determined that outer space was to remain outside of existing political borders, free from sovereign claims, and open to use by all countries.
Recently, the commercial space industry is growing rapidly and project significant strategic and economic benefits. This potential coupled with the steady militarization of space by major powers such as the US, EU, Russia, China, Japan and India will likely result in a situation in which those who can reap the benefits of space (public and private) are much more likely to develop a lead in space tourism competition, associated infrastructure and nurture entrepreneurs.
Even though it is too early to predict, the developments in space pose significant questions and will influence the markets and relationships of countries that engage in the commercial space travel operations and the future opportunities this might sector will bring that includes moon and mars settlements.
What is the future of space travel?
Space tourism is expected to revolutionise the lifestyle, travel patterns and future settlements of humanity in other planets though it may presently look simply like the mere opening of space for adventure and recreation.
In a research article published, the researchers based at the Azabu University in Japan argue that if space tourism started 50 years before, there might be 5 million travellers per year will be travelling to outer space at present. With daily scheduled lunar flights, this situation might have increased the orbital population to 70,000 with 60 co-orbital hotels and 20 equatorial orbit sports centres.
Scientists such as the late Professor Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge believed that human settlements on Moon and Mars will take place by the end of this century, arguing that human beings need to have a ‘Plan B’ if anything happens to earth as a result of the growing pressure on limited natural resources and the needs of the growing population.