Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Annex 3

MEMO FROM PATRICK COLLINS TO BNSC, MAY 1999

  POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF BRITISH INVESTMENT IN COMMERCIAL PASSENGER SPACE TRANSPORTATION

    (1)  Introduction: Economic Promise of Space Tourism

    (2)  Britain's Strength in Aerospace

    (3)  Opportunity to Lead in Passenger Space Transportation

    (4)  Recommendations

1.  INTRODUCTION: ECONOMIC PROMISE OF SPACE TOURISM

  The near-term feasibility of passenger space travel services, and their potential to grow into the largest commercial activity in space have recently been acknowledged in publications by NASA (1, 2), by the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA) (3), by the Keidanren in Japan (4), and by Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace (5).

  This is in contrast to the existing space services of satellite launch and performing experiments in Earth orbit, for which there is a lack of commercial demand. Satellite launch is stuck at a level of some $4 billion/year worldwide, and is not commercially profitable (for example, Ariane 5 will never repay any significant proportion of its investment cost). Indeed it is expected that total satellite launch revenues will shrink in coming years with the development of reusable launch vehicles.

  As a result, HMG's policy not to contribute significantly to the development of Ariane 5 nor to the international space station project has been shown to be economically sound, since neither will be profitable in the sense of earning a positive return on the investments made in them.

  By contrast to satellite launch using ELVs, NASA and the AIAA expect passenger space transportation to grow to tens of $billions/year (1, 3), on which scale it will contribute significantly to world economic growth (6). Based on this recognition there is growing activity in the USA, Japan and Germany aimed at developing this new market.

2.  BRITAIN'S STRENGTH IN AEROSPACE

  Within Britain's manufacturing base, aerospace represents a relatively large share. Aircraft manufacturing includes major capabilities in all three main areas—propulsion, airframes and avionics; space includes satellite manufacturing and operations; and these include both military and civilian activities.

  In addition, in the closely related field of commercial aviation, Britain is home to a number of very successful airlines, including one of the world's largest, and one of the world's most innovative (of which the Chairman has stated his intention of offering passenger space travel services).

  The City of London is also home to a large share of the whole range of specialised financial, legal and insurance services which the worldwide aviation industry uses. (London's equally important role in shipping is also relevant, since there are important operational and legal parallels between shipping, aviation and space travel).

  On the government side, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) plays a major role in regulatory affairs within both Europe and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Staff in all three military services and in the aerospace companies supplying them have experience of designing, manufacturing and operating missiles of many sizes, which are closely related to ELV operations.

  The above collection of expertise represents an important and growing component of Britain's national economy, which is surely going to be maintained, both because of its international competitiveness, and through government support (particularly for military aspects).

3.  OPPORTUNITY TO LEAD IN PASSENGER SPACE TRANSPORTATION

  For a variety of reasons, Britain is uniquely placed to play a leading role in developing and supplying passenger space travel services.

3.1  Aviation Paradigm

  The carriage of passengers to space and back will resemble aviation more closely than the launch of satellites on board expendable launch vehicles. This is true even in the case of unwinged vehicles, and is illustrated by the US government's making the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) responsible for commercial space transportation in 1995, and by subsequent FAA publications (7). (Some aspects of this are also discussed in a 1997 paper from the Japanese Rocket Society's Space Tourism Study Program (8).)

  As a concrete example, it would be possible to provide short sub-orbital passenger flights to space on board a jet+rocket-powered aeroplane not very much more capable than the Saunders-Roe SR53 which was developed for the MoD and flown above Mach 2 in 1957. (NB the Chief Engineer of that project is currently involved in a project to develop a passenger-carrying rocket-plane capable of sub-orbital space flights (9).)

  Broad experience in both aviation and space activities and related commercial and regulatory activities is therefore more important for realising commercial passenger space transportation than extensive experience of launching satellites using ELVs.

3.2  European Situation

  Within Europe the French government and the European Space Agency (ESA) have decided not to consider space tourism but to concentrate their efforts on the Ariane family of expendable launch vehicles (ELV), which they plan to operate until 2020. Germany is responsible for a substantial part of each Ariane rocket, but its major effort is in-orbit research activities using Spacelab and the international space station module Columbus. It is significant that Daimler-Chrysler, the prime contractor for Columbus has sponsored the International Symposium on Space Travel in Bremen in 1997 and 1999: passenger accommodation in orbit is the only application that offers the possibility of significant commercial demand for the technology developed for the space station.

  By contrast British policy has been to concentrate on commercially promising applications of space technology, notably telecommunications and remote-sensing satellite systems to date. As a result, Britain does not have a significant investment in ELVs which it must "defend"—as the governments of USA, Japan, France, Germany and Italy all do. This has created resistance in these countries both to the development of reusable launch vehicles (which are seen as competitors to their ELVs) and to the concept of space tourism, which cannot use ELVs.

  Britain is therefore uniquely favourably placed to exploit this potential new commercial opportunity in space: the increasingly widely recognised commercial promise of space tourism matches Britain's policy to concentrate on potentially commercial space activities, and HMG is, uniquely, free from the conflict of interests that restrains countries participating in ELV projects.

3.3  Popular Support

  From surveys performed in Japan, Canada, Germany, USA and Britain it is known that the idea of space tourism is very popular with a large proportion of the population. Consequently, while support among the general public in Britain for contributions to ESA is lukewarm, there is likely to be strong support for efforts to make space travel available to the general public.

  Furthermore, space tourism is particularly popular with young people. Young people in recent years is an important concern of the Council of Engineering, which is addressing the problem through a number of programmes. From past experience it is certain that the initiation of a project to realise space tourism services will attract excellent people into engineering and aerospace in particular, which is economically desirable.

 4.  RECOMMENDATIONS

  It must be recognised that, as a commercial space activity involving the development and operation of passenger space vehicles, space tourism cuts across current British space policy in two ways. Having been recognised as being likely to grow into a much larger business than existing commercial uses of space (1, 2, 3) space tourism clearly should be a target for government investment—but it is contrary both to the policy not to invest in launch vehicles, and to the policy that crewed space activities should be performed through ESA.

  In view of the potentially large economic benefits, it is therefore recommended that British policy be updated in order to match this new situation. This will enable Britain to maximise the economic benefit from its extensive investment and expertise in aerospace, aviation and related services.

  There are advantages to be gained by taking the first steps towards developing commercial passenger space travel services with sub-orbital systems. First, a sub-orbital vehicle is technically very much simpler and will cost very much less to develop and operate than an orbital vehicle. Second, a number of travel companies already have customers waiting for sub-orbital space travel services even at very high prices, and demand is expected to grow to a substantial scale once prices fall. Consequently an appropriate vehicle can probably be developed on a commercial basis, and so should not require substantial government subsidy.

  Nevertheless, due to the novelty of projects to develop passenger space vehicles, raising finance is still difficult, especially for the very first phase while the concept is still unfamiliar to investors and the general public.

  British engineers and researchers, most notably at Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd (BSL), have played a pioneering role for more than a decade in advocating and demonstrating the feasibility and desirability of developing a space tourism industry—as specifically acknowledged by NASA in the references in (1). It would therefore seem that providing modest amounts of aid to enable BSL to realise its sub-orbital "Ascender" spaceplane project in the near future would be a very cost-effective means of starting to build a national expertise in this promising new field of business activity which plays to Britain's long-standing strengths.

References

  1.  D O'Neil et al, 1998, "General Public Space Travel and Tourism—Volume 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'Neil 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.  P Collins, Y Funatsu, 1999, "Collaboration with Aviation—The Key to Commercialisation of Space Activities", also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/collaboration with aviation the key to commercialisation of space activities.shtml.

  5.  H Muller, 1998, "Space Tourism—New Business Opportunity or a Remaining Fiction? ", Proceedings of the forty-ninth IAF Congress.

  6.  P Collins, 1999, "Space Activities, Space Tourism and Economic Growth", Proceedings of second ISST, Space Tours GmbH, also downloadable form http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/space activities space tourism and economic growth.shtml

  7.  P Smith, 1999, "Concept of Operations in the National Airspace System 2005", FAA, also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/concept of operations in the national airspace system in 2005.shtml.

  8.  E Anderson and P Collins, 1997, "Pilot Procedures for Kankoh-Maru Operations", Proceedings of seventh ISCOPS also downloadable from http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/pilot proceedures for kankoh maru operations.shtml.

  9.  http://www.bristolspaceplanes.com/projects/ascender.shtml.


 
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