Supplementary submission from Space Future
1. Sub-orbital passenger space flights could
have started in Britain during the 1960s, using a passenger spaceplane
derived from the Saunders Roe SR-53 supersonic rocket-plane, which
first flew in May 1957.
2. Fifty years of progress in many fields
of science and technology since 1957 have made the development
of a sub-orbital passenger spaceplane much easier today than it
would have been at that time.
3. In order to reach 100 kilometres altitude
a spaceplane needs to accelerate to above Mach 3 (to approximately
1 km/second). This is higher than the SR-53's maximum speed of
Mach 2, but very much less than the speed of 8 km/second (approximately
Mach 26) needed to reach orbit. Thus, while flights to orbit will
require several tons of propellants/passenger, a sub-orbital flight
requires only tens of kg of propellants/ passenger.
4. In addition to much lower propellant
costs than orbital flights, suborbital flights also have much
gentler re-entry: frictional heating is far less than in re-entry
from orbit, so there is no risk of vehicle damage, and no need
for repairs after each flight.
5. Due to these technical factors, sub-orbital
spaceplanes can readily achieve "airline operation"
of several flights/day like jet-powered aircraft, thereby reducing
vehicle costs/flight proportionately.
6. When mature, that is after achieving
a long life for the rocket engine through several years of flight
operations, the cost/flight will fall to a few times propellant
costs, like aircraftor approximately £3,000/ passenger.
7. A necessary condition for achieving costs
as low as £3,000/passenger is that market demand must grow
sufficiently largeto approximately one million passengers/year.
Market research performed to date has not included direct surveys
of demand at such low prices; however the demand for high-priced
services suggests that world-wide demand will grow to several
million passengers/year as service prices fall progressively.
(NB several million passengers/day fly on jet aircraft.)
8. Most of the costs of the maturation process
could be covered by revenues from commercial operations, including
flights for researchers, space flight training, urgent photography
and other uses, as well as tourism at higher prices.
9. The development of sub-orbital space
flight services is the best way to make progress towards low-cost
orbital flight (see 4.1 below). Once orbital spaceplanes are mature,
the cost of return flights to orbit could fall to approximately
£10,000/passenger, after about 10 years of operations.
10. The development of a sub-orbital spaceplane
soon is a uniquely low-cost way for Britain to take a leading
role in the coming European spaceplane industry, which has exceptional
growth prospects for decades to come. By contrast to France, Germany
and Italy, Britain does not have a vested interest in expendable
rockets; this should make it easier for Britain to innovate in
this field, as noted by the Trade & Industry Select Committee
in 2000 . However, a Minister capable of innovation is also
needed to make appropriate policy decisions.
11. Starting spaceplane manufacture and
operation in Britain will open a new industrial era, involving
the low-cost operation of space vehicles like airliners. Aerospace
manufacturing in Britain is currently in a very precarious conditionas
shown by recent lay-offs at Airbus factories. Consequently a new
spaceplane project is extremely desirable, and could grow to have
highly beneficial effects on sub-contractors, materials suppliers,
related service industries (including insurance and finance),
education, higher education and other fields.
12. The environmental impact of even hundreds
of sub-orbital space flights/day will be very small compared to
either aviation or motor vehicles. This is because the total volume
of propellants will be small; it will comprise largely non-hydrocarbon
fuel, so will release little CO2 into the atmosphere; and it could
be made carbon-neutral if required, for example by using CO2-free
electricity to produce liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
13. Low-cost travel to orbit will use much
more propellants, but will enable a wide range of new space activities
that have been prevented by space agencies' continuing use of
high-cost expendable rockets for 50 years. Among others, development
of space-based solar power stations may be able to supply electric
power to Earth without CO2 emissions.
14. Investment in passenger space travel
promises a much higher economic return than other projects of
the BNSC or space agencies. In particular it offers much better
value than traditional "manned space flight" activities
using expendable launch vehicles, which have extremely high costs
and little economic value.
For example, the use of even £3 billion over
20 years recommended by the Royal Astronomical Society  would
pay for only a small number of flights by British astronauts in
the USA. Alternatively, the same investment could pay for a fleet
of tens of "Ascender" sub-orbital passenger spaceplanes
which could earn revenues of more than £1 billion/yearas
well as paying for a prototype of the "Spacecab" orbital
15. The opportunity described here is not
"too good to be true"; it is an unusually attractive
investment opportunity resulting from a long overdue innovation
having been resisted for several decades. This has created a chance
for rapid progress to catch up with possibilities that have existed
16. The Minister for Science and Innovation
until October 2006 refused to even discuss the subject of passenger
space travel for the eight years of his tenure, wasting a golden
opportunity for this country. It is greatly to be hoped that the
new Minister will have the courage and the vision to embrace this
opportunity for Britain, before it disappears as other countries
overtake Britain's remaining intellectual lead.
1. Technical Feasibility of Low-Cost Sub-Orbital
1.1 The Saunders Roe SR-53 supersonic rocket-plane
(now in the RAF Museum at Cosford) first flew in May 1957; it
flew supersonically in May 1958 . A more advanced version,
the SR-71, was proposed as a sub-orbital research vehicle, but
was not built. If that project had continued, sub-orbital space
flights could have become routine, and commercial passenger flights
could have started in Britain during the early 1960s. Such a project
is therefore very straight-forward today.
1.2 The very low cost of such a project
was demonstrated in 2004 by the winning of the "Ansari X-Prize"
by the American spaceplane "SpaceShipOne", which cost
some $25 million (ie about one month of HMG expenditure on civilian
space activities). This effectively proved the correctness of
the long-standing claim by Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd that a sub-orbital
spaceplane could be developed at very low cost. This possibility
was described in a study for ESA in 1994 . The feasibility
of Bristol Spaceplanes' project was even endorsed by the Minister
for Space, Ian Taylor MP in 1995, based on a review by BNSC staff
more than five years before the SpaceShipOne project
began, and before the "Ansari X-Prize" was even established.
1.3 The £50 million cost of a prototype
of the "Ascender" sub-orbital spaceplane, which is designed
for low-cost commercial operation (rather than to win the "Ansari
X-Prize"), requires funding equivalent to about 10% of the
BNSC's budget over several years. It is about 2% of the BNSC's
expenditure since 1990 when support for the Ascender project was
first requested (and first refused).
1.4 The fact that SpaceShipOne flew supersonically
on its first powered flight further demonstrates how much easier
such a development is today compared to the first supersonic flight
in 1947 by the X-1 rocket-plane (which took years of preparations).
NB the single-stage SR-53 flew supersonically within 11 years
of the X-1, with no need for a separate carrier-plane like the
X-1 and SpaceShipOne.
1.5 Since a vehicle's kinetic energy is
proportional to the square of its speed, the propellants needed
for sub-orbital flights are only about 1% of those needed to reach
orbital speed, making flight operations very low-cost. (That is,
1/8 x 1/8 = 1/64, and there is an additional exponential benefit
from needing much less propellant to carry the lower mass of propellants.)
1.6 This benefit is repeated on re-entry
when a vehicle's kinetic energy is converted into heat through
friction with the atmosphere. The heat generated on re-entry from
a sub-orbital flight to 100 km altitude is approximately 1/64
of that generated by a similar vehicle braking from orbital speed
of 8 km/second. Thus only quite simple heat shielding is required,
and there is no need for maintenance or repairs, or even detailed
checks, between flights.
1.7 In order to achieve the minimum possible
cost/flight, in addition to an appropriate vehicle design, there
is also a need for a large market to achieve economies of scale.
2. Probability of Market Growing Sufficiently
to Achieve Economies of Scale
2.1 Surprisingly little market research
on space travel has been performed during the 40-year period during
which sub-orbital passenger flights have been possible. The first
ever market research on orbital passenger flight was performed
by the author in Japan in 1993 . There has still not been a
professional study of the potential market for passenger space
flights (either orbital or sub-orbital) in Britain; nor has there
been a study anywhere of potential demand for sub-orbital flights
at the low prices achievable by a vehicle such as Bristol Spaceplanes'
2.2 However, in 2002 a Nasa-funded study
of the potential market for reusable launch vehicles included
market research on the demand for high-priced sub-orbital and
orbital passenger flights . That study concluded that demand
in the USA for sub-orbital flights alone might grow as high as
$4 billion/year, even at prices of $100,000/ passenger. NB this
is several times the demand for commercial satellite launches,
an activity which has received subsidies of tens of $billions.
2.3 During the Select Committee's oral evidence
session on 21 February, Committee Members expressed interest in
making a trip to space themselves, and it was even proposed that
they might make a formal "Visit" to space on an appropriate
occasion . This is surely representative of public opinion
about space travel: it is recognised as a truly unique experience
which everyone who has been to space confirms was one of the most
interesting experiences of their life. That is, riding on a rocket,
seeing planet Earth floating against the blackness of space, and
floating weightlessly are, by all accounts, uniquely exciting
and thought-provoking, inspiring a wide range of emotions. Although
a light-hearted moment in the Committee's proceedings, this was
not trivial: the existence of spontaneous popular demand for such
a new service is the foundation of a new industry.
2.4 At the time of writing in early 2007,
unusually high levels of unemployment are a major problem world-wide,
and are due in particular to a lack of new industries in the richer
countries. These are needed to offset the rapid loss of jobs due
to business rationalisation on a global scale, including the "offshoring"
of many jobs from more developed countries to countries with lower
wage levels. To have delayed exploiting the opportunity to create
a major new space travel industry for 40 years has been a major
failure both of space policy and of economic policy.
2.5 Despite the lack of detailed market
research concerning low-priced sub-orbital flights, their known
popularity at high prices, the growing number of countries planning
spaceports for sub-orbital space flight services (already including
USA (six states), Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Sweden),
and the fact that several million passengers fly on airliners
every day, all suggest strongly that demand will grow to a high
level at £3,000/passengerperhaps several million passengers/year
2.6 In Japan there has even been discussion
of the possibility of sub-orbital spaceflights becoming a part
of secondary educationwhether subsidised or at parents'
cost. Such a policy alone could create demand for about one million
passengers/year in a single country. (If provided by the Japanese
government, implementing such a policy would cost more than £1
billion/year; but if substituted for part of the £30 billion/year
currently spent on largely unprofitable public works projects,
it would contribute much more to economic growth, and have important
educational benefits in stimulating interest in science, technology
and other subjects.)
2.7 As recognised spontaneously by Committee
Members, the possibility of traveling to space for oneself is
far more stimulating than the prospect of watching a video of
someone else in space, or than designing part of a satellite.
It is very desirable that Britain should adopt this innovative,
low-cost approach to space development (which British researchers
have been leading for the past 20 years) rather than blindly continuing
existing activities of which the educational and economic benefits
are very limited, and much less than could easily be achieved
with the proposed innovation.
3. Time Required to Achieve Cost of £3,000/Passenger
3.1 The date when a cost of £3,000/passenger
is reached depends on the date of starting development of a prototype
of a vehicle designed to achieve minimal overall costs. The following
are approximate dates for Bristol Spaceplanes' Ascender, which
is such a vehicle:
Time of development through first flight of
prototype: three years (comparable to SR-57, SpaceShipOne).
Duration of Test Flights to certification for
passenger carrying: two years.
Production of commercial version: one year.
Operations to achieve maturity: four years.
Hence, in total, approximately 10 years is needed
from the start of funding of a suitable prototype to achieving
a cost of £3,000/passenger.
3.2 The main technical issue is the development
of a long-life version of a suitable rocket engineof the
order of 1,000 flights. Such a development is essentially a straight-forward,
incremental engineering project, similar to that carried out during
flight operations of the first generation of jet engines. Small
reusable rocket engines were developed for rocket-assisted take-off
aircraft during the 1950s and 1960s, when they reached 50 flights
between overhauls. Raising the life to 1,000 flights will take
a few years, depending on the rate of growth of activities and
the budget available.
3.3 The credibility of this estimate of
course depends on the soundness of the Ascender plan. In addition
to the extensive experience of the principal members of the Bristol
Spaceplanes team, the technical feasibility of Ascender and its
orbital follow-on, "Spacecab", was endorsed by the Minister
for Space in 1995, based on a review by BNSC staff .
3.4 However, the Minister for Science and
Innovation since 1998, Lord Sainsbury, permitted almost no expenditure
on this project from 1998 through 2006, though with no analysis
being performed to justify this stanceand despite strongly
worded criticism of this policy by the Trade and Industry Committee
in 2000 .
3.5 Moreover, under Lord Sainsbury's policy
the BNSC continued to advise the DTI every year not to grant Bristol
Spaceplanes Ltd any seedcorn investmentexcept for a SMART
award in 2004, after SpaceShipOne had proved that Bristol Spaceplanes'
claims were true. He subsequently permitted no follow-up to that
study through 2006. If instead the Minister had approved this
innovation, the cost of sub-orbital flights could already be close
to £3,000/passenger, with numerous resulting benefits, and
the development of a low-cost orbital vehicle could already have
3.6 Fortunately for British manufacturing
industry, the design approach of SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo
is not suitable for achieving minimum flight costs, nor for development
into an orbital vehiclewhich are the activities with greatest
potential for growth, and therefore of greatest interest for UK
manufacturing industry. These objectives are also more appropriate
for a public project than a vehicle with much higher operating
costs, which would not be available to most of the public.
3.7 It will be greatly in the interest of
Britain's aerospace manufacturing industry if the Minister for
Science and Innovation appointed in 2006, Malcolm Wicks MP, will
correct his predecessor Lord Sainsbury's policy of preventing
work on this subject, and authorise funding for a sub-orbital
spaceplane prototype. Despite its low cost, this could become
the basis of a major new direction for long-term growth of aerospace
and other industries.
4. Contribution to Achieving Low-Cost Orbital
Flight and Benefits
4.1 The development of sub-orbital space
flight services is the best way to make progress towards achieving
similar cost reductions in travel to and from orbit. That is,
future low-cost orbital passenger flight services will be more
like sub-orbital passenger flight services than like the use of
expendable rockets to launch satellites today. This was stated
in a 2002 report of the US Department of Commerce:
"Understanding the full significance of
sub-orbital RLV (reusable launch vehicle) development requires
recognition not only of what sub-orbital RLVs may accomplish in
their own right, but also of their significance as a transitional
step towards orbital RLV development... an operational sub-orbital
RLV... will provide a technology "stepping-stone" towards
orbital RLV development .... and will pave the roadway for appropriate
RLV regulatory, insurance and financial policies and strategies"
4.2 The value of a sub-orbital spaceplane
for developing orbital spaceplanes has also been explained repeatedly
by Ashford over the past 20 years, as summarised in . Following
the same logic as used above, the cost of a return flight to orbit
using a two-stage passenger-carrying spaceplane such as Bristol
Spaceplanes' "Spacebus" could fall as low as £10,000
passenger after maturation through several years of flight operations
. This project would be more technically challenging than
a sub-orbital vehicle, and test-flying would be more expensive
due to the much larger quantities of propellants used. However,
progress in many areas of engineering makes it feasible today;
for example, the use of titanium, in which British engineers have
a world lead, has become far cheaper today. To reach maturity
is expected to take about 15 years from start of funding .
4.3 The initial investment in a prototype
orbital passenger vehicle would be of the order of £1 billion
(depending on its size, among other factors). When sub-orbital
passenger flights have been operating on a commercial basis for
a few years, investing in the development of an orbital vehicle
system will be easier than it is today. That is, the precedent
will be valuable in reducing both the actual risks and the perceived
risks for investors. Such a project might well become a pan-European
project like Airbus; British industry is ideally positioned to
lead this development by pioneering sub-orbital spaceplane operations.
4.4 The author has been advocating such
a policy with Ashford for the past 20 years . Unfortunately
the practice of space agencies using expendable rockets at very
high cost is given much more attention by policy-makers and the
media, who seem to assume that space agencies are employing the
most economical methods possible. Policy makers and the media
also do not seem to appreciate how extraordinary it is that the
cost of space travel has not fallen at all over 50 years, despite
revolutionary advances in many fields of science and technology,
as discussed in Space Future Consulting's earlier Submissions
to the Select Committee [12, 13].
4.5 Overall, the potential to achieve economies
of scale which passenger traffic offers for sub-orbital space
flights, due to popularity with the general public, seems certain
to apply also to orbital travel. The higher costs of both developing
and operating orbital vehicles will be offset by the much higher
revenues from orbital flight services. That is, market research
shows clearly that flights to orbit, which will naturally include
stays in orbital accommodation lasting several days or longer,
will be much more popular than sub-orbital fights of just a few
minutes (6, 7). In addition, there will be demand for orbital
flights for many other purposes than tourism.
5. Benefits for British and European Industry
5.1 It is an entirely realistic ambition
for Britain to become the home within Europe of a "Spacebus"
industry that could eventually rival Airbus in importance. Moreover,
the initial cost is extremely low, equal to some 10% of HMG spending
on existing civilian space activities, none of which offers the
prospect of generating a large new commercial market, as noted
by the Trade and Industry Committee in 2000 .
5.2 A prototype sub-orbital spaceplane is
also a very useful vehicle in its own right (as illustrated by
the fact that Nasa has apparently already agreed to use the American
sub-orbital vehicle "SpaceShipTwo" when it is developed).
Manufacturing and operating a sub-orbital spaceplane is also the
best way to start developing an orbital vehicle system, both from
the point-of-view of cost-effectiveness (as emphasised by the
US Department of Commerce ), from the educational point-of-view,
and due to the potential for public support, especially among
5.3 On the other hand, funding of a sub-orbital
spaceplane prototype would not pre-empt subsequent decisions about
how much to invest in follow-on vehicles, whether a commercial
sub-orbital passenger vehicle, a prototype orbital spaceplane,
a commercial orbital passenger vehicle, or others. Each of these
decisions could be made at appropriate later dates, and each project
is likely to involve participation by a range of public and private
investors from other European countries.
5.4 The timing of a decision in 2007 to
invest in developing the Ascender prototype would be very appropriate
from the point-of-view of British manufacturing industry. The
recently announced layoff of 1,600 staff in Airbus factories in
Bristol and Flintshire, accompanied by public discussion of the
company's intention to outsource manufacturing work to lower-cost
countries, is an ominous warning of the weakness of aerospace
companies depending on Airbus alone. With corporate headquarters
in France and Germany, it is unavoidable that strategic decision-making
will favour preserving work in those countries. Consequently a
seminal new aerospace project is urgently needed in Britain to
avoid further de-industrialisation, with its well-understood ill-effects
on other industries, on technical education, on employment and
on the economy as a whole.
5.5 Economic policy makers are used to ignoring
the space industry as no more than a small, loss-making activity.
It is important that they are taught about the strategic economic
importance of this major new industrial opportunity, in a field
of traditional British strength, before it is lost to foreign
5.6 In this context the decades-overdue
development of spaceplanes can become not just a lifeline for
British manufacturing industry, but can create a major new industry
with potential for large-scale demand growth, popular with the
general public, having major educational benefits, and aiding
space science research by sharply reducing the cost of access
to space. Europe's role in space can thereby also become more
independent of the unreliable, high-cost US space shuttle (and
its planned successor), creating an exciting new vision for young
Europeans, and a new field in which to preserve Europe's overall
competitiveness with China and India.
6. Environmental Impact of Large-Scale Passenger
Space Travel Industry
6.1 Since the subject of the environmental
impact of space tourism was discussed during the oral evidence
session on 21 February, some comments are added here. Most importantly,
the emissions from even several hundred sub-orbital space flights/day
will be very small compared to the emissions from either aviation
or motor vehicles, mainly because the rocket engines are used
for only about one minute during each flight. Thus the total volume
of propellants used is small; moreover, non-hydrocarbon fuels
can be used, which produce no CO2 on combustion. In addition,
if CO2-free electricity is used to produce the propellants (such
as liquid hydrogen and oxygen) the flights could be made carbon-neutral.
6.2 The emissions/passenger from orbital
flights will be about 100 times those for sub-orbital flights.
These could also be made CO2-free, and even carbon-neutral, in
the same way as sub-orbital flights. However, this will not eliminate
all their environmental impacts, which will grow with the scale
of the industry: for example, the emission of hot steam into various
levels of the atmosphere may have some adverse impacts above a
certain quantity. However, reducing the cost of travel to orbit
will reduce the cost of all space activities, including environmental
research and development of non-chemical launch methods such as
"space tethers", enabling even orbital flights to be
6.3 Moreover, the first large-scale use
of space that is widely advocated once low-cost space travel is
achieved, is to supply low-CO2 electricity on a large scale from
solar power satellites, using only passive energy-receiving antennas
on the Earth . Despite having been the subject of research
for 40 years this idea has not yet been tested by space agencies,
for reasons that remain unclear. Consequently, not only is there
a realistic prospect of making orbital space travel environmentally
neutral, the sharp reduction in the cost of space activities that
only passenger space travel can achieve has the potential to enable
radical reduction in CO2 emissions worldwide.
6.4 In a broader perspective, government
efforts worldwide to stimulate continuing economic growth through
manufacture and distribution of goods increasingly have negative
environmental impacts, as humans' industrial activities approach
the limits of the Earth's ecological system. In this context,
it would be highly beneficial for industrial activities to be
progressively shifted out of the Earth's ecosphere. Far from being
"science fiction", this possibility is 40 years overdue,
due to space agencies' failure to develop low-cost space travel
when it became feasible during the 1960s. Once this starts it
should be possible to rapidly catch up in a wide range of new
space activities that were possible in principle decades ago,
but have been prevented to date by space agencies' continued use
of high-cost expendable launch vehicles for 50 years. This process
will create many opportunities for innovation and further economic
growth largely outside the Earth's increasingly threatened ecosphere
7. Benefit-to-Cost Ratio Far Greater than
Space Agencies' Activities Using Expendable Launch Vehicles
7.1 Development of low-cost passenger space
travel promises a much higher economic return than any other project
of the BNSC or space agencies. In particular it offers much greater
valueeconomic, educational, culturalthan traditional
"manned space flight" activities using expendable launch
vehicles, which have extremely high costs and little economic
value. As discussed on 21 February, the use of even £3 billion
over 20 years to participate in "manned space flight"
activities of NASA and Esa, as recommended by the Royal Astronomical
Society , would pay, at most, for a small number of flights
by British astronauts on the successor to NASA's "space shuttle".
Alternatively, the same investment could pay for the production
of a fleet of tens of "Ascender" sub-orbital passenger
spaceplanes which could earn sales revenues of more than £1
billion/yearand in addition pay for a prototype of the
"Spacecab" orbital passenger spaceplane. The latter
would clearly be far more beneficial in every wayeconomically,
industrially, educationally, culturally and politically.
7.2 Passenger space travel also offers much
greater economic value than the BNSC's efforts at commercialisation.
The 2000 report of the Trade & Industry Select Committee bluntly
criticised the policy of investing heavily in supposedly commercial
surveillance satellites as having "failed" . Unfortunately
that criticism was not effective in improving policy: the then
Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, continued
the same policy without any significant improvement in performance
until he resigned in 2006. On the contrary, he commissioned several
reports which ignored the Trade & Industry Committee's recommendation
to investigate space travel; the BNSC's Submission to the Select
Committee did not even mention the subject, but gives an excessively
rosy picture of his space policy by evaluating it in terms quite
different from those used in business such as payback time, profitability,
return on investment; and he watered-down the BNSC's objectives
to reduce the importance of achieving economic benefit from space
investmentas discussed in Annex 2 of Space Future Consulting's
earlier Submission .
7.3 While it is understandable that the
ex-Minister and the BNSC wish to emphasise the positive results
of their work, the Committee should not allow themselves to be
misled into believing that British space policy is economically
successful in the normal sense of these words. The expenditure
of more than £1 billion for which Lord Sainsbury was responsible
during his tenure achieved no more than a small fraction of the
benefits readily attainable. The reason for this is that he did
not permit any significant expenditure on the key problem of space
policyreducing the extremely high cost of space traveldespite
the fact that it is a straight-forward, low-cost project, as described
above and in , and as proved by SpaceShipOne in 2004.
7.4 The educational benefits of developing
space travel will also be much greater than the BNSC's satellite-centred
policy. Most children are indeed interested in space; however,
like the Select Committee Members, they are much more interested
in the possibility of traveling to space themselves than in either
watching videos of other people traveling to space, or in studying
highly technical subjects like satellite design. The latter is
valuable training for those who pursue a technical career; however,
it is not effective in attracting most children to study science
and technologyas can clearly be seen from drastically falling
enrolments in physics courses, as discussed in [12, 13]. The modest
cost of making low-cost sub-orbital travel a realistic possibility
for young people would probably be more than repaid by the educational
7.5 Development of passenger space travel
will also create many employment opportunities in the field of
space medicine. The Select Committee received many interesting
Submissions from dedicated members of the fledgling space medicine
community in Britain, requesting funding to support their work
. These were rather countered by the discussion on 21 February,
when it was stated that, despite practitioners' enthusiasm, space
medicine offers no pressing advantage for medical research; it
is extremely expensive to participate in Nasa's "manned space
flight" programme; and there are no particularly promising
commercial applications . In this context, supporting the growth
of a passenger space travel industry offers an ideal "Win-Win"
solution, since it will create a self-financing activity that
will inevitably require extensive space-medical advice and research
over a wide range of issues for several decades to come. In order
to make progress in this, the space medicine community should
be funded to support the space travel industry rather than "manned
space flight", in activities including passenger screening,
advice, counter-measures, international standards, related research,
and other matters. It is desirable that this activity should be
modeled on civil aviation medical services, which handle the full
range of health, safety and medical insurance issues on a large-scale,
international, commercial basis, and are already starting to do
this work for space travel through the US Federal Aviation Administration
8. Concluding Remarks: The Central Issue
for Space Policy
8.1 In summary, the process needed to achieve
the target cost of £3,000/passenger for sub-orbital flights
is a straight-forward vehicle project following a typical aviation
production of a prototype of the
Ascender sub-orbital spaceplane (already designed);
test-flights to achieve certification
for passenger-carrying (as it is designed for);
final design of production version;
regular flight operations for several
This process will lead to maturation of the
vehicle and related operations, similar to the maturation of a
new aircraft, after which the typical cost per flight is a low
multiple of the cost of the propellants used, as described in
8.2 The total cost of this process would
be a few hundred £million over 10 years, much of which would
be covered by revenues from flights at higher prices than £3,000/passenger,
for which there is known to be strong demand.
8.3 The total cost to the government of
such a project will depend on how large a role the government
wishes British companies to play in this new industry, and what
other national benefits it wishes to obtain from the project.
Economically it would be most effective to pay for at least the
prototype and early test flight operations, for which the funding
needed is 10% of HMG's expenditure on civilian space activities,
continued over a few years. This would avoid further years of
delay; would obtain major nationwide educational benefits; and
would ensure the possibility of a leading role in future growth
of the European spaceplane industry for British companies.
8.4 Institutionally it will be most effective
if such a project is implemented via civil aviation institutions;
this will make use of the CAA's long and deep experience, including
the unique, pioneering process of having certified the supersonic
Concorde airliner for passenger carrying.
8.5 An important risk-reducing factor is
that funding the development of a suitable prototype spaceplane
in the near future, even if not followed up by investment in further
project phases, would in itself have a wide range of benefits
for space science research, for education, for aerospace manufacturing,
and for space medicine, while also creating the opportunity to
take a leading role in the European spaceplane industry.
8.6 As progress towards reusable spaceplanes
is being made both in continental Europe and in other countries,
continued delay is becoming increasingly dangerous for the British
economy. Within a few years at most, China and India are likely
to enter the space travel industry, after which the potential
role of British (and European) manufacturing industry will be
greatly reduced, and the opportunity to take the lead will have
been lostwith all the implications that has for employment,
related services, regulation, standardisation and other matters.
8.7 The opportunities described above and
in previous Submissions are not "too good to be true",
although uninformed readers may be tempted to think so. Due to
decades of stagnation in space transportation, the benefit-to-cost
ratio of investing in a sub-orbital spaceplane prototype is exceptionally
positive. Recent events have reduced the risks even furthernotably
the successful flights of SpaceShipOne, and follow-on activities
worldwide as more and more governments wake up to the potential.
SpaceShipOne demonstrated that the founders of Bristol Spaceplanes
Ltd and Space Future Consulting Ltd have been right for 20 years.
The feasibility of plans for the Ascender and Spacecab vehicles
was endorsed by BNSC staff in 1995 . Nothing more remains to
be done in order to create a major new opportunity for Britain's
aerospace industry than to provide the small budget needed to
implement this plan.
8.8 The ex-Minister for Science and Innovation,
Lord Sainsbury, frequently spoke of the importance of innovation,
but he himself prevented it in this field for the full eight years
of his tenure, without ever giving any justification. The space
industry is stagnating economically due to the central problem
of excessively high launch costs: this long-standing situation
has persisted precisely because space policy makers refuse to
consider developing low-cost spaceplanesfor reasons which
they have never explained. For example, the BNSC's Submission
to the Select Committee does not even mention passenger space
travel, which is the key to reducing the extremely high cost of
all space activities.
8.9 This persistent behaviour raises the
question: "Why?" Why did Lord Sainsbury decide to pursue
this economically unsatisfactory policy, specifically refusing
to consider sub-orbital spaceplanes and/or passenger travelcontrary
to the assessment of BNSC staff in 1995, contrary to the Select
Committee's criticism in 2000, contrary to the rapid progress
made since then in other countries, and contrary to the enormous
potential benefits for Britain described above? From the above
discussion it seems clear that the reason was none of the following:
It was not because a sub-orbital spaceplane
project is too costly.
It was not because a sub-orbital spaceplane
would not be useful for research.
It was not because it does not offer sufficient
It was not because the risks are too high.
It was not because existing space activities
are sufficiently profitable.
It was not because existing space activities
have sufficient educational benefits.
It was not because the aerospace industry has
no need for such a seminal new project.
8.10 To maintain silence while refusing
to act on this central issue of space policy for eight years,
even in the face of explicit criticism, is surely the exact opposite
of what should be expected of a "Minister for Innovation".
To the contrary, a minister with specific responsibility for innovation
should at the very least perform a comprehensive review of the
potential of such a major innovation, which by 2006 was widely
recognised as the most promising field for growth of commercial
space activities, and which has been advocated for more than 20
years by the British researchers leading this field.
8.11 Consequently, Lord Sainsbury's inaction
and silence on this most important issue amount to a complete
failure to discharge the important responsibility for which he
was appointed. It would therefore be greatly in the public interest
for him to be required, as the ex-Minister responsible, to explain
to the Select Committee his reasons for having persisted in this
policy which is so contrary to the interests of British taxpayers.
8.12 It is a vital role of the Select Committee
to take a broader view than that of each of the different organisations
participating in government-funded space activities. It is clear
that the BNSC's continuing refusal even to acknowledge the importance
of passenger space travel, and a fortiori to invest in realising
it, has been a key failing of British space policy throughout
the previous Minister's tenure. It will be of the greatest service
to the British people if the Select Committee investigates this
deep-rooted problem, and strongly recommends action to redress
it. As explained above, this will, at low cost, make a unique
to reducing the costs of all space
to renewal of Britain's aerospace
to reviving young peoples' interest
in science and engineering education,
to the creation of a true space medicine
to the start of a popular new travel
service with limitless growth prospects.
8.13 It is highly desirable that the new
Minister, Malcolm Wicks MP, should not merely continue to give
lip-service to the idea of innovation, but should take the initiative
to allocate the very modest budget required to manufacture and
test-fly the Ascender sub-orbital Spaceplane, and thereby obtain
the wide-ranging benefits described above for British taxpayers.
The arguments in favour of investing in this project are now overwhelming.
To continue his predecessor's negative policy would be to throw
away a uniquely valuable opportunity: it is extremely rare that
such a widely beneficial outcome is available at such low cost
and risk. A positive decision will earn the gratitude not only
of the aerospace industry for opening the door to a new world
of growth, but also of parents nationwide whose children will
be inspired by the optimistic, open-ended future to which the
development of low-cost space travel leads.
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