For someone who follows far-out entrepreneurial space ventures for a living, it's good to soak up some skepticism once in a while. And a heavy dose of skepticism about private-industry space tourism is just what I what I got this morning at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston, during a symposium titled "50 Years of the Space Age: Looking Back, Looking Forward." Looking forward, this group of experts—including Kathy Sullivan of the Battelle Center for Math and Space Policy, Roald Sagdeev of the University of Maryland-College Park, and Alvin Aldrin, son of Buzz Aldrin—sees hard times ahead for space tourism entrepreneurs.
It's simple economics: Sure, Virgin Galactic could be up and running in the coming years, and they might even turn a profit. But the number of passengers willing to pay for a suborbital flight—a quick taste of space that Kathy Sullivan bluntly calls a "lark"—is probably not large enough to support growth in the space tourism industry, Aldrin and Sullivan agreed. As Aldrin put it, "We know nothing about this market." And without growth, spacecraft remain incredibly expensive to build, spaceflight doesn't get cheaper, and large, publicly owned companies—the ones with the real money—are unlikely to get involved. (An interesting little tangent on the economics of scale in the aerospace industry: According to a chart presented by Aldrin, the Air Force's controversial F-22 Raptor is only a little less expensive per pound than Space Shuttle Endeavor).
But back to space tourism: What's more, Sullivan said, today's space entrepreneurs are still using technology that hasn't changed fundamentally since the days of Wernher Von Braun. In other words, nothing happening in Mojave or Las Cruces is likely to create the kind of game-changing technology that would make space travel truly, revolutionarily cheap. Was the panel made up of a bunch of haters? Hardly: Aldrin said he'd love to go down in history as one of the people who back in the day said, wrongly, that there was no market for space tourism. But unfortunately the view from Boston, Earth, 2008, is sobering.
I think that the SS2/WK2 is NOT the best design for a suborbital plane (vs. the SINGLE plane design) since:
- it's too big and expensive having the dimensions of a 747, three fuselages, four big jet engines on the WK2
- two vehicles costs more money per unit and have higher maintenance costs
- the exotic solid-liquid engine of the SS2 needs more maintenance costs, then, it can fly only from a few specialized "spaceports" (rather than hundreds airports around the world)
- high unit and maintenance costs means higher ticket prices
- a SINGLE vehicle with jets (to have many possible landing attempts) is SAFER than an SS2 that have no jets and falls like a meteorite having just ONE landing attempt (if failed, the SS2 will crash and the passengers will die)
- much more dangerous is the (possible) contingency of a partly separated SS2 from WK2 ... HOW it can land safely
- but the most dangerous contingency of the jetless SS2 is a possible aborted suborbital flight with the SS2 that falls (and MUST land at the FIRST and ONLY attempt!) with its tank FULL of propellent!!!
more about Space on my blog: http://www.ghostnasa.com/
I think that it is doomed to what air lines are currently suffering from space tourism if it dose grow will just turn out like the air lines. they will be constantly bank corrupt and in financial turmoil.