Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 15

Submission from Space Future Consulting Ltd

Executive Summary


  Over the past half-century the space industry has received very large public subsidies—several billion pounds in Britain, one trillion dollars in the OECD, and more elsewhere. However, it has not achieved commensurate economic benefits. Notably, the commercial space industry has a turnover of just a few percent of governments' cumulative expenditure, and the "return on investment", if measured conventionally, would be very low.

  The reason for this failure is not a mystery, although it is not often stated. It is because investment has been used to develop space systems for which there is little commercial demand, and it has not been used to develop services which the general public most wish to buy.

  The service which is today widely recognised to have the greatest economic potential is passenger space travel, or "space tourism". Market research has revealed potentially very large demand, and engineers have plans for vehicles to cut the cost of space travel to a small fraction of the cost of the expendable and partly-expendable rockets used for space activities today.

  For a number of reasons government space agencies remain extremely reluctant to even consider the subject of passenger travel. This reluctance has been particularly clear in the case of the BNSC since July 2000 when the parliamentary Trade and Industry Committee published its Tenth Report, which criticised the failure of the BNSC's efforts at commercialisation and urged HMG to study the feasibility of passenger space travel.

  However, the BNSC has continued to ignore the subject, including in a series of commissioned reports, and to refuse any funding, without explanation—while spending a further 900 million pounds on space activities with little commercial benefit. Yet with a budget of just a few percent of this, British industry could already be leading the new industry of passenger travel.

  Correcting this policy error would have many economic benefits and create new opportunities for space researchers by sharply reducing the cost of space flight, which has not fallen at all in 45 years, due to existing space policy. It could also stimulate children to study a wide range of science and engineering subjects, reversing the trend of recent years.

  The costly failure of the current system of policy-making in this matter should be recognised. Such failure is a predictable result of decision making by a monopoly agency without an effective external review mechanism.


1.  Poor economic performance of space industry

  From the economic point of view, the space industry's performance has been very poor: despite approximately $1 trillion of investment over 45 years, the turnover of commercial space activities is just a few percent of this investment to date. In recent years competition from low-cost countries has been growing, and the industry has been consolidating and reducing employment: Table 1, from a 2003 report by the US Federal Aviation Administration, shows the weak condition of the US space industry:

Table 1:



Launch vehicle manufacturing and services
Satellite manufacturing

  Recent European data tell a similar story: European space industry employment reportedly fell by 20% from 1995 to 2005; the major space engineering company Astrium has cut 3,300 staff since 2003; and in 2005 alone, prime contractors cut 2,400 staff or 13.5% of their total [2].

2.  Reason for space industry's poor economic performance

  The major reason for the failure of space commercialisation to date is because government investment has not been used to develop services which the public wish to buy on a large scale. Despite spending $1 trillion on civil space activities, OECD governments have not reduced the cost of space travel at all—it is the same in 2006 as it was for the first space flight 45 years ago. That is, the cheapest and safest means of reaching orbit is to use the "Soyuz" rocket which carried Yuri Gagarin, and which was designed during the 1950s. Such stagnation in cost for half a century may be unique in the history of transportation.

3.  Promise of passenger space travel industry increasingly recognised

  The most promising market for space activities is passenger travel—as the author first argued publicly 20 years ago [3]; as Nasa acknowledged in 1998 (extensively referencing the author's work) [4]; and as Space Future Consulting submitted to the Trade and Industry Select Committee in 2000 [5], along with four other Submissions recommending the subject [6, 7, 8, 9]. Since then, much further evidence has accumulated that developing passenger space travel is both feasible and economically promising. In 2001 Dennis Tito became the first person to pay to fly to space, to world-wide acclaim; in 2002 the US Department of Commerce published a report strongly supporting the importance of sub-orbital passenger vehicles [10]; in 2003 Nasa published a report estimating that sub-orbital passenger travel might reach a turnover of $4 billion/year (about 5 times the turnover of commercial satellite launch) [11]; in 2004 SpaceShipOne's successful space flights appeared on the front pages of nearly every newspaper in the world; and in 2006 an Esa staff-member has stated " tourism has a great potential to become a very successful business and a major driver for space technology development" and Esa has offered study contracts to teams developing passenger space vehicles [12].

Figure 1


4.  Potentially large scale of passenger space travel industry

  Although it is often suggested that space tourism will remain a small-scale business for the very rich, there are no technical or economic reasons to prevent it growing into a major global industry. Figure 1, published by Space Future Consulting (SFC) in 1999, is based on the scenario developed in the 10-year "Space Tourism Study Programme" carried out by the Japanese Rocket Society from 1993 to 2002 [13]. It shows a turnover of some $100 billion/year, many times larger than estimates of the sub-orbital passenger travel market.

5.  Passenger space travel could have started 30 years ago

  It is very important to understand that the performance of SpaceShipOne was exceeded by the US X15 rocketplane in the 1960s, and nearly matched by the British SR53 rocketplane in 1957.  Consequently commercial sub-orbital passenger flights could have started in the early 1970s if space policy had been economically motivated. In that case, orbital passenger travel could have started during the 1980s, and the situation shown in Figure 1 would be more-or-less realised by now.

6.  Great economic value of growth of passenger space travel

  To realise the situation in Figure 1 would require a subsidy equal to 10% of space agencies' budgets; most of the investment required would be commercial, as in the air travel and hotel industries. If work to develop this industry had started during the 1960s, it would have been very beneficial for economic growth and employment world-wide. Today, unemployment is a very serious global problem: in the USA it is 10 million higher than in past economic recoveries; in Europe 10% unemployment is almost chronic in Germany, France and Italy, leading to riots, racism and neo-nazism; and it is much higher in many poor countries. This ominous level of unemployment is largely due to the lack of new industries that are urgently needed to create new jobs to replace those lost as "globalisation" spreads [14].

7.  Low launch costs also beneficical for the environment

  By greatly lowering the cost of launch, passenger space travel would make many other space activities commercially feasible—notably the supply of CO2-free solar-generated power from space [15]. Consequently it is potentially very important for protecting the global environment. If the situation in Figure 1 had been realised already, the world economy would be in a far healthier state, with much lower unemployment and far lower dependence on polluting fossil fuels. From a wider perspective, there would also be no need for the ominous discussion and planning for "resource wars" that is so prevalent today [16, 17, 18], since access to space resources would already be routine. Indeed, it is worth noting that unemployment and poverty are the source of many of the problems in the world today, and it is recognised that the approach towards resource wars will lead to loss of civil liberties—a process that has already begun [19].

8.  Wide educational benefits of developing passenger space travel

  In view of childrens' spontaneous interest in space, the development of space travel services for the general public and their utilisation in education are likely to stimulate children's and young people's interest in a range of related science and engineering topics. This effect is likely to be much greater than current efforts by space agencies, which involve indirect activities such as watching videos of astronauts and playing with water-rockets. This subject is discussed further in Annex 1.

9.  Failure of space policy-making process

  Space agencies have responsibility for commercial space development: for example, Nasa is required by law " encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space", and the BNSC is required to " industry maximise profitable space based business opportunities" [20]. However, space agencies have not done this, despite using very large amounts of taxpayers' funding. Although UK space policy was revised in the 1980s, nominally to achieve greater economic benefits, it has largely failed. The Trade and Industry Select Committee's 2000 report stated this, and quoted SFC in urging the BNSC to consider passenger space travel [21] (see Annex 2, paragraph A2.3). In view of the potentially large benefits described above in contrast to the poor economic performance of actual space activities, HMG's refusal to support work in this field for 15 years has unnecessarily continued the industry's commercial failure and burden on taxpayers.

10.  Parliamentary criticism of space policy failure unheeded

  Despite the comments in the Trade and Industry Select Committee's 2000 report, the BNSC and British space policy makers have continued to ignore their advice, as described in Annex 2. Moreover, since 2000 the BNSC has spent a further 900 million pounds with little economic benefit, in the sense of creating few new commercially profitable activities. (Recent claims of the "success" of British space policy due to the growth of sales of satellite television decoder boxes and programmes reflect the "watering down" of objectives, as discussed in Annex 2.)

11.  Minimal investment cost of starting space travel industry

  If even 5% of the 900 million pounds spent via the BNSC just since 2000 had been used to develop a vehicle and facilities suitable for certification for sub-orbital passenger space travel, British industry could already be leading the world in this field. 15 years of unjustified refusal to fund passenger space travel research has imposed heavy costs in lost opportunities.

12.  Necessary condition for economic success of space industry

  So long as the space industry refuses to supply services which large numbers of the general public wish to buy, it cannot grow, but will remain a burden on taxpayers. Although this may seem obvious it has been ignored by space agencies for decades, with impunity. It is high time that this extremely costly policy failure is corrected, and taxpayers receive a return commensurate to the large costs they have borne to date. This could make a major contribution to achieving a brighter future for humanity.

13.  British space science excellent

  The above comments are not criticisms of British space science. This is of the highest quality, and should be encouraged, along with scientific research in many other fields. However, HMG expenditure on space is not solely for scientific research; it is explicitly intended to also achieve economic benefit. Failure to do so must be recognised as failure to achieve stated policy objectives, as noted in 2000 by the Trade and Industry Select Committee [21].


14.  Recognise the importance of low-cost passenger space travel

  A major change needs to be made in British space policy: the government must recognise Passenger Space Travel as a new category of activity with potentially great economic value, and should initiate relevant activities to exploit the major commercial opportunities that it offers. In doing so it should give high priority to achieving commercial value from government space investment.

15.  Provide support to achieve passenger space travel as soon as possible

  Implementing policies to catch up with the missed opportunities of the past few decades as soon as possible would be extremely beneficial—economically, educationally, environmentally and culturally.

16.  Start with sub-orbital travel

  Britain is home to the longest-standing proposal for a sub-orbital passenger vehicle, which has received no support at all for 15 years, during which HMG has spent nearly 3,000 million pounds on civil space activities, with no commensurate commercial benefit. This failure should be corrected, and this project should be supported generously; just 10% of current space expenditure over a few years would enable rapid success, and start progress towards orbital travel.

17.  Fund primarily via civil aviation

  The business model of passenger space travel is similar to passenger air travel, and space agencies have little experience or know-how relevant to developing passenger travel services. Consequently it will be most effective for HMG to fund this work primarily via civil aviation organisations. The growth of space travel will lead to growth in a wide range of related business activities: spacelines and spaceports; manufacturing, maintenance and repair of spacecraft, engines and components; training and certification for a wide range of new jobs; space travel companies, hotels and marketing; and financial services including insurance, banking and leasing. Britain has enormous expertise relevant to all of these activities but currently lacks commercial growth opportunities, and it could and should be leading this field. The inability to help this development which the BNSC has demonstrated over the past 15 years is itself a good reason to give the responsibility to civil aviation organisations. This is even clearer when one considers that the CAA has such relevant experience as having certificated rocket-assisted Comet airliners for passenger carrying as long ago as 1952, and the supersonic airliner Concorde which required major innovation in many engineering and regulatory aspects, including wide international collaboration.

18.  Widen scope of space research funding

  The scope of space research funding should be widened to include many new activities, including particularly activities with potential arising with the use of low-cost reusable launch vehicles. Among other subjects, space science funding should also include relevant social sciences.

19.  Recognise the value of correct research, and support innovative researchers

  If the funding of engineering and science research is to achieve its objectives, successful researchers must be recognised honestly and supported correspondingly, whether in the physical or social sciences. Not to do so is contrary to the most basic principles of science and technology policy, whereby those who first understand and explain some significant phenomenon are given due recognition for doing so, and support to extend their work. In addition, they must be supported even where their results are "inconvenient" for government organisations, for example by criticising existing funding allocation; in the field of policy science such considerations are routine. As advocates of space tourism, Bristol Spaceplanes' and Space Future Consulting's work has been criticised as being "speculative". However, they have researched and argued logically and consistently for 20 years; no one has published any reasoned criticism in the research literature; and recent developments show that they have been correct so far—for 20 years before space agencies [3]. Moreover, no alternative proposal for space activities of anywhere near similar economic value has resulted from the nearly 4,000 million pounds spent by the BNSC, nor from the $400,000 million spent by OECD space agencies during these 20 years! To continue to refuse to recognise and support the work of such successful innovative researchers would make a travesty of science and technology policy.

20.  Recognise the failure of the space policy making process in this key area

  The failure of the monopoly-dominated space policy making process, as noted by the Trade and Industry Select Committee in 2000, must be acknowledged. The question of how best to avoid such policy failures in future is important, and deserves consideration under the appropriate auspices. Clearly the process must become more independent from space agencies, and must be opened to input from outside and to independent scrutiny [17].

October 2006

1.Anon, "The Economic Impact of Commercial Space Transportation on the U.S. Economy: 2002 Results and Outlook for 2010", FAA, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, 2003.
2.P deSelding, "Industry, ESA Air Grievances During Space Days Meeting", Space News, Vol 17, No 23, p 4, 2006.
3.P Collins & D Ashford, 1986, "Potential Economic Implications of the Development of Space Tourism", IAF paper no IAA-86-446; also at archive/potential_economic_implications
4.D O'Neil, I Bekey, J C Mankins, T F Rogers, E W Stallmer & O'Neil, 1998, "General Public Space Travel and Tourism Volume 1_Executive Summary", NASA/STA, NP-1998-03-11-MSFC; also at archive/general_public_space_travel_and_tourism.shtml
5.P Collins et al, 2000, Memorandum Submitted by Space Future Consulting, Appendix 12, cmtrdind/335/335ap13.htm
6.D Ashford, 2000, Memorandum submitted by Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd, Minutes of Evidence, cmselect/cmtrdind/335/0041114.htm
7.T Rogers et al, 2000, Memorandum submitted by the US Space Transportation Association, Appendix17, pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmtrdind/335/335ap21.htm
8.M Hempsell, 2000, Memorandum submitted by Mr Mark Hempsell, Minutes of Evidence, cmselect/cmtrdind/335/0041113.htm
9.J Brodie-Good, 2000, Memorandum submitted by Wildwings Worldwide Travel, Appendix 8, cmtrdind/335/335ap09.htm
10.US Department of Commerce, 2002, "Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Applicable Markets", DoC Office of Space Commercialisation, October.
11.Nasa-MSFC, 2003, "Nasa ASCENT Study Final Report", Marshall Space Flight Center.
12.L David, 2006, "Esa to Sponsor Space Tourism Work", September 19,
13.P Collins, 1999, "Space Activities, Space Tourism and Economic Growth", Proceedings of Second ISST; also at space_activities_space_tourism_and_economic_growth.shtml
14.P Collins, "Meeting the Needs of the New Millennium: Passenger Space Travel and World Economic Growth", Space Policy, 2002, Vol 18, No 3, pp 183-97; also at of_the_new_millennium_passenger_space_travel_and_world_economic
15.M Nagatomo & P Collins, 1997, "A Common Cost Target of Space Transportation for Space Tourism and Space Energy Development", AAS paper no 97-460, AAS Vol 96, pp 617-630; at for_space_tourism
16.M Klare, "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict", Owl Books, 2002.
17.P Collins, 2006, "The Economic Benefits of Space Tourism", JBIS, Vol 59, pp 400-411.
18.P Collins, 2004, "Space Tourism: Recent Progress and Future Prospects", Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF-2004); also at
19.M Bernasconi & C Bernasconi, 1997, "Why Implementing the Space Option Is Necessary for Society", IAC paper no. IAA-97-IAA.8.1.02, and Acta Astronautica 54 [05] (2004), pp 371-384; also at archive/why_implementing_the_space_option_is_necessary_for_society.shtm
20.Anon, 2000, Government Reply to Trade and Industry Committee Tenth Report, Appendix to Trade and Industry Committee Twelfth Special Report, cmtrdind/908/90804.htm
21. House of Commons, 2000, Trade and Industry_Tenth Report,

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