Memorandum submitted by Space Future Consulting
ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE DEVELOPMENT
OF UK SPACE POLICY
1.1 Relevance of Space Future Consulting to
the committee's inquiry
Space Future Consulting (SFC) is an international
UK-based consultancy group that provides advice and analysis to
the space, tourism, and media industries. As part of their operations,
they maintain the informational web site www.spacefuture.com,
the foremost source of information on space tourism, power, and
vehicles on the Internet. SFC was the first in the world to carry
out market research into the field of space tourism, and its work
has been endorsed extensively by others, including NASA in its
recently published report, "General Public Space Transport
and Tourism" (1). SFC's head, Dr Patrick Collins, is the
leading researcher in this field and has published papers on the
subject for over 15 years. SFC's unique expertise is of direct
relevance to revising UK space policy to achieve maximum economic
benefit for UK taxpayers.
1.2 Summary of main points
In recent years, UK space policy has excluded
investment in launch vehicle development, and this policy has
successfully prevented the use of taxpayers' money for unprofitable
satellite launch vehicle projects. However, during 1998, both
NASA and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics
(AIAA) published reports concluding that general public space
travel and tourism is going to become the largest commercial activity
in space. This industry could commence in the near future with
sub-orbital space flights using simple, low-cost vehicles. In
order for Britain to profit from the future main commercial space
activity, UK space policy should be revised to support British
companies working towards passenger space travel, which have been
excluded from HMG funding to date.
1.3 Structure of this document
The principle findings of SFC are laid out in
the main case and conclusion below. In addition, we have pleasure
in enclosing three supporting Annexes:
*Annex 1 is a detailed response to
the policy and implementation issues raised the inquiry and listed
in press notice No. 32.
*Annex 2 is an analysis of space
solar power as an emergent industry enabled by the development
of the commercial space industry as outlined in the main case
and Annex 1.
*Annex 3 contains the contents of
a memorandum sent to BNSC in May 1999 that discusses many of the
issues pertinent to this inquiry.
Passenger space travel and accommodation should
be accepted as important targets for space development work in
the UK and for funding by HMG.
2.1 In March 1998, NASA and the Space Transportation
Association (STA) published the report "General Public Space
Travel and Tourism" (1, 2), which concluded:
(a) Space Travel by the general public is
a realistic objective; most people in reasonable health will be
able to make a trip to orbit;
(b) Space Tourism, in the form of sub-orbital
flights, requires no new technology and could start in the very
(c) Tourism is likely to become the largest
commercial use of space.
Also in 1998, the AIAA (the world's largest
professional aerospace organisation) published a report that summarised:
"In light of its great potential, public
space travel should be viewed as the next large new area of commercial
space activity" (3).
2.2 Space tourism is increasingly covered
by the media, including the British press, leading magazines such
as Time, Forbes, and Wired, and a large number of
other magazines, newspapers, and television programmes. The concept
is gaining increasing acceptance in public perception. Market
research in Japan, America, Germany and Britain has revealed a
strong public demand for space travel, even at relatively high
2.3 It is widely understood that the growth
of space activities is constrained by the very high price of launch
due to the use of expendable vehicles, and that reusable launch
vehicles (RLVs) must be developed in order to sharply reduce the
cost of access to space.
2.4 It is not so widely understood that
the main obstruction to the development of RLVs is neither technology
nor cost but market factorsit is not economical to spend
billions of pounds to develop a reusable vehicle for launching
satellites, because the satellite launch market is too small to
recover such a large investment. As an example, Lockheed-Martin's
"Venture Star" proposal has an estimated development
cost of some $6 billion, but the project has been shelved because
this investment cannot be recovered. In contrast, the "Kankoh-maru"
passenger-carrying orbital RLV (4) proposed by a Japanese business
consortium has an estimated cost to market of $12 billion, but
this would be recouped from the revenue generated from passenger
space travel services.
2.5 Based on technical designs, market research,
and economic analyses, many of which are available online in the
Space Future library (5), the prospects for passenger space travel
services are extremely promising. If initial investment is made
soon, orbital tourism could start in as little as 10 years, grow
to an industry worth $20 billion per year by 2020, and increase
to $100 billion by 2030, creating several million new jobs. By
contrast, at present rates of expenditure, space agencies would
spend $750 billion in the same period, which will neither be repaid
nor create new jobs (6). Passenger travel is the only near-term
market that offers a sufficiently large return to recover the
substantial investment required.
2.6 The potential of passenger space travel
to grow to the scale of commercial aviation has important economic
implications. There is approximately 20 per cent excess global
capacity in car manufacture, steel production, and petrochemicals
which is leading to severe competition and wide-spread losses.
The cure is the development and growth of new industries. In order
for passenger space travel to grow into a core twenty-first century
industry, significant investment is required. Most of this will
come from the private sector, but initial government seed-funding
could accelerate the process, enabling Britain to play a major
role in the heart of this new industry, rather than remaining
an outside spectator.
2.7 Although NASA has stated in print that
space tourism is the most promising direction for commercialisation
of space activities (1), it has not implemented its own recommendations.
Instead it maintains that it has no responsibility to use its
$14 billion per year budget to help make space accessible to US
taxpayers. In fact, NASA is legally obligated by its charter to
pursue commercialisation of space activities (7). Similarly, ESA
has directed none of its several billion-euro budget to this field.
This is not economically beneficial to taxpayers, and is solely
due to the short-term interest of space agencies in preserving
their government funding.
2.8 Recent developments in the US and elsewhere
indicate that there is a new wave of entrepreneurial activity
in the space industry. This includes the creation of Bigelow Aerospace,
Virgin Galactic Airways, and the recent formation of MirCorp as
a joint US/Russian venture to rescue and refurbish the Mir space
station as a tourist destination, with the first tourists planned
in early 2001. There are several serious commercial RLV companies
in the US, and these developments should substantially improve
the credibility of space tourism as a business and assist them
in raising the finances they seek.
2.9 Britain has a wealth of expertise in
all fields relevant to the development of passenger space travel,
which are almost identical to those involved in aviation. It should
be particularly noted that aerospace engineering and related service
industries are particular strengths of the British economy, and
Britain plays a disproportionately large role in these activities
in the global economy. This is described in detail in a memorandum
sent to BNSC in May 1999 (Annex 3).
2.10 A small percentage of HMG space funding
could have a major impact. However, work in the UK is being prevented
by current space policy, which does not distinguish between unprofitable
satellite launch vehicles and potentially profitable passenger-carrying
vehicles. The design requirements for passenger transport vehicles
are quite different than those of satellite launch vehicles. However,
government space agencies are very reluctant to accept this conclusion.
2.11 An example of a sub-orbital RLV that
would make a good entry point to commercial space tourism is the
"Ascender" sub-orbital passenger vehicle in development
at Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd (8). This draws upon earlier British
experience of rocket-powered aircraft, including the Saunders-Roe
SR53, which flew in 1957 (and whose chief engineer is on the Ascender
team). The Ascender project has been widely praised as realistic,
particularly in the aviation world (9). However, the project has
not received any government support due to current UK Space Policy.
2.12 Amongst the leading countries, Britain
is the least inhibited by vested interests in existing government-funded
launch systems, since HMG correctly declined to participate in
these projects and instead concentrated efforts on potentially
commercial space activities. However, recent recognition that
passenger space travel will become the major commercial activity
in space requires a revision of UK space policy. If this occurs
soon, Britain has the opportunity to spearhead this promising
3.1 Space activities are still a heavily
subsidised government-funded activity. Only when the development
of an independent commercial space industry is made a core objective
of government space funding will space activities become self-supporting.
3.2 The development of a passenger space
travel industry requires collaboration between space and aviation
bodies, including companies, research institutions, and regulatory
authorities. This process should start with the development and
operation of sub-orbital passenger space travel services.
3.3 Britain is the country best positioned
to take an initiative in this new direction and the least interested
of the leading industrialised nations in preserving the current
status quo of the government-supported space industry. It is also
home to several pioneering companies in the field of passenger
space travel. HMG should take steps to exploit the opportunity
that these companies' skills represent.
3.4 It is strongly recommended that UK space
policy be revised to enable government funding to help British
companies, organisations, and researchers develop sustainable
competitive advantage in this most promising field of commercial
1. D O'Neil et al, 1998, "General
Public Space Travel and TourismVolume 1 Executive Summary",
NASA/STA, NP-1998-03-11-MSFC, also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/general
public space travel and tourism.shtml.
2. D O'Neill et al, 1998, "General
Public Space Travel and Tourism Volume 2, Workshop Proceedings",
NASA/STA, also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/general
public space travel and tourism volume 2.shtml.
3. Ivan Bekey, 1998, "Report of
Working Group No 4 of the AIAA/CEAS/CASI Workshop on International
Co-operation in Space", also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/report
of working group 4 of the aiaa ceas casi workshop on international
cooperation in space.shtml.
4. K Isozaki et al, 1994, "Considerations
on Vehicle Design Criteria for Space Tourism", Proc 45
IAF Congress, paper no IAF-94-V.3.535.
6. P Collins, 1999, "Space Activities,
Space Tourism and Economic Growth", Proceedings of second
ISST, Space Tours GmbH, also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/space
activities space tourism and economic growth.shtml.
7. "National Aeronautics and Space
Act of 1958 (As Amended) ", also downloadable from http//www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/amendact.html.
9. Aviation Week & Space Technology,
13 December 1999, p 79.