MEMO FROM PATRICK COLLINS TO BNSC, MAY 1999
(3) Opportunity to Lead in Passenger Space
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.
Within Britain's manufacturing base, aerospace
represents a relatively large share. Aircraft manufacturing includes
major capabilities in all three main areaspropulsion, 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
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).
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
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
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
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.
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 investmentbut 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
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 industryas
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
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'Neil et al, 1998, "General
Public Space Travel and TourismVolume 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 AviationThe 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 TourismNew
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.