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Space Tourism: Can ISRO venture into this lucrative market?

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New Delhi, Feb 5: Space Tourism may sound very exciting and it makes an interesting topic to talk about, but it is something that only a handful across the world can afford. 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. 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.

Image for representation only

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. To date, orbital space tourism has been performed only by the Russian Space Agency. Work also continues towards developing suborbital space tourism vehicles. This is being done by aerospace companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.

[SpaceX gets first private passenger for moon trip]

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.

Should ISRO venture into Space Tourism?

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.

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 lucrative business of 'Space Tourism'.

Given that only seven people have actually gone into space as tourists so far, the idea of ISRO entering into this aspect of outer space activities may seem far fetched, but here is what ISRO chief said in October 2018.

ISRO chairman K Sivan on October 11 said that India needs to explore space tourism. "We are creating capacity for it so that we do not lag behind," Sivan said when asked about space tourism.

[Two technologies key to ISRO's ambitious Gaganyan mission]

If India does enter space tourism, the impact would be huge as 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.

But, at present, there are no laws governing space tourism in India. One must understand that laws that are applicable to trained astronauts cannot easily be extended to space tourists.

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.

[First manned SpaceX mission set for June 2019]

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.

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