With space tourism on the rise, today we ask ourselves: “what are the challenges that accompany this emerging form of leisure travel?”
Why should space travel be an area of interest for Travel and Tourism students? Humanity’s natural curiosity of the unknown is certainly a huge factor in the current rapid acceleration of commercial space travel. A recent test flight right here in the UK is the latest in a series of advancements in the sector. What was once considered purely for the purpose of science has now become an almost attainable option for civilians, albeit very wealthy ones.
Before we consider the challenges for this emerging industry, we must first look back to Concorde to see why the supersonic aeroplane is no longer in use, and if Concorde’s grounding might hint at some of the concerns commercial space travel will face.
Firstly, the cost of fuel to power the Concorde was extremely high. 100 tons of fuel were burned from London to New York, compared with just 44 tons for a Boeing 777 for the same journey. Pollution and efficiency are certainly important topics in aviation, and fuel is airlines’ number one cost. In a time when fuel reserves are becoming a serious concern for the aviation industry, Concorde simply isn’t an option. Maintenance costs were also steep – each Concorde aircraft required custom maintenance. Safety, although deemed one of the safest aircrafts during its time, became a concern after a fatal crash in Paris in 2000. Passenger numbers never recovered according to a BBC report back in 2003. All of the aforementioned factors contributed to the fleet’s eventual grounding. Could we assume commercial space travel will follow in Concorde’s flight path and be perceived as ‘too dangerous and expensive’?
Comparing Space Travel
To begin with, space travel costs will be extremely high, although the experience is so unique the price is as abstract as the concept of being in space. US$250,000 is the current cost of a Virgin Galactic space flight (as of November 2017, though flights are indefinitely delayed). Surprisingly though, many of the propulsion systems have been created to work with recycled products; the Skybolt 2 spacecrafts were powered by old, burned tyres, for example. Is this emerging industry being created with sustainability in mind?
However, much like Concorde’s custom maintenance, one could speculate that each Virgin Galactic plane would need a series of lengthy assessments once it’s landed back on Terra Firma. Indeed, safety is one of the largest concerns surrounding the flights, with several high profile accidents occurring since development of commercial space travel began. How many incidents could it take to dissuade customers from parting with their US$250,000? There’s certainly a level of anxiety surrounding space flights, in part due to various dramatic non-commercial spaceflight incidents, such as the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster; this leads us into a topic that’s certain to dominate once commercial space travel becomes viable for more than just the wealthy.
Since government agencies were solely responsible for space-related activities, commercial companies are on somewhat unsteady legal ground. The general laws governing space travel were created ‘decades ago’, according to the Conversation and are ‘lacking clarity’.
The laws for incidents involving space travel come from two main areas – national law and international treaties. If the incident happens on Earth, national laws (from the country launching the spacecraft) and the Outer Space Treaty (1962) can be applied to find a resolution; if the incident happens in space, however, there’s no directly applicable legal framework. Should there be, for example, a law for each atmospheric layer? Or should general aviation law cover the flight until the craft reaches above the Kármán line (the imaginary line separating earth from space)? What laws would govern planetary landings? The current system appears to place liability on the state that the spacecraft is launched from, but Virgin Galactic is part of the Virgin Group, a British multinational organisation that plans to launch its’ space flights from New Mexico in the USA.
The space tourism is still taxi-ing up to the runway, but travel and tourism students should expect to see some high-profile discussions between countries once commercial flights get off the ground.
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