Affordable space tourism: How ISRO can make it a reality?
New Delhi, Sep 27: Space Tourism is an emerging and highly lucrative market. Around 50 countries are said to be vying for this billion of dollars worth market and the day is not far when commercial spaceflights for tourists would become a regular feature.
In fact, the US, Russia and Japan are said to be working towards having habitat on Mars by 2030. As of now, it is an extremely expensive proposition that only a few millionaires can afford.
ISRO can not only bring about a paradigm shift in the development of this industry but has the potential to create a low-cost space tourism market. It may take many years, but affordable space tourism can potentially revolutionise the space launch industry.
Space tourism, in essence, is putting paying customers into space for the purpose of recreation, rather than exploration. Despite a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding Space Tourism, the fact remains that it is something which is out of reach of the general public. Well, it is highly unlikely that a regular shuttle kind of service to space would start anytime soon like it is shown in the science fiction movies. The images that come to our mind whenever space tourism is mentioned is of a star trek kind of humongous spacecraft which is almost a city in itself. Humanoids manning the craft, teleportation to human colonies on other planets and interaction with the aliens is not likely to become reality anytime soon. Such things would still remain confined to imaginations of sci-fi writers but may happen in future.
Space Tourism sounds exciting and makes an interesting topic to talk about, but as of now, it is something that only a handful of billionaires across the world can afford. Despite a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding Space Tourism, the fact remains that it is something which is out of reach of the general public. The costs may come down in years to come, but it is highly unlikely that a regular shuttle kind of service to space would start anytime soon. Hopping on to a futuristic space vehicle for a quick to-and-fro trip to the moon is, as of now, confined to Sci-fi stories and is likely to remain so for at least next 2-3 decades.
In 2001, American businessman Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist to pay his way. He spent 20 million dollars for almost eight days with the crew on a Russian spacecraft orbiting Earth 128 times. During the next decade, six other space tourists followed with tickets reaching 40 million dollars.
There are several different types of space tourism, including orbital, suborbital and lunar space tourism. Work also continues towards developing suborbital space tourism vehicles. This is being done by aerospace companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
In addition, SpaceX announced in 2018 that it is planning on sending two space tourists on a free-return trajectory around the Moon on the upper stage of SpaceX's BFR rocket, known as the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS). Space X seems most enthusiastic about actually taking the Space Tourism business to a new level. In 2017, Space X announced that it would be sending two paying passengers on a loop around the Moon. The work is underway and there several technological challenges to be overcome. All in all, it is not as easy as it seems in Sci-Fi movies or novels
How can ISRO significantly change space tourism market?
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is currently working on the most challenging mission it has ever undertaken - The Gaganyaan- which is going to India's first manned mission to space.
India can play an important role in the development of low-cost space tourism based on its affordable space technologies. ISRO's costs for Chandrayaan mission and Mangalyaan missions were far cheaper than what other countries spent on such endeavours. Chandrayaan-2, which suffered a minor setback in the last phase of a soft landing, cost around Rs 950 crores which is less than what was spent to make movie Avengers. Many ISRO missions cost far less than the production costs of Hollywood movies.
Reports say that ISRO is ecstatic about the viability of affordable space tourism theme and that it has already begun work with a starting budget of Rs.5000 crore.
If ISRO executes Gaganyaan perfectly, then there would be a paradigm shift in the way world looks at India's capabilities in terms of space exploration. The success of Gaganyan can prove India's ability to develop complex technologies and would establish ISRO as a major space power. India has been launching satellites for other countries, but what Gaganyaan can do is to encourage ISRO to dive into the lucrative business of 'Space Tourism'.
If India does enter space tourism, the impact would be huge as an investment in space tourism can generate revenues and employment on a sizeable scale. Space tourism would require personnel for building the spacecraft, to training travellers, to investment and insurance. All the ISRO missions so far involved sending satellites/orbiters out of the earth's atmosphere. But, when humans are being sent to space, then they have to be brought back, and that is a big technological challenge.
In 2011, the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, conducted a pilot study exploring the scope of a space tourism industry in India, which suggests that India could reduce the overall cost of commercial space travel. It states that at present, anyone looking to buy a seat to outer space will have to dish out roughly $200,000 but if India can bring that figure down by a fourth, it will be a competitive player in the market, said a HuffingtonPost report.
With the rise of companies like Space-X and the huge success that ISRO has achieved so far, space tourism may become a real thing in the coming future, but it is hard to predict how much time it may actually take. An industry can only develop when there is a demand for a particular kind of goods or services.