Space tourism is human spaceflight for recreational purposes.
Space is internationally recognized as being over 100 km in altitude. This 100 km threshold is known as the Karman line. In the US, the FAA recognizes altitudes above 80 km as space.
Space tourism is marketed under the following taglines: “Commercial Spaceflights to the ISS”, “Human Spaceflight“, “Become an Astronaut“, “Missions to Space“, “See The World As It Was Made To Be Seen” and “Fly to Space”.
Customers are generally referred to as “private astronauts”, “spaceflight participants”, “commercial astronauts” or “space tourists”.
The space tourism market has three market segments: suborbital, orbital, and lunar. This article focuses only on suborbital and orbital. Lunar space tourism remains largely aspirational. SpaceX has announced a lunar mission for 2023 based upon the still under development Starship. Roscosmos has stated they hope to offer a trip around the moon after 2030.
The space tourism market is primarily served by the following types of service providers: launch; spaceport; orbital destination; training; and private astronaut mission recruitment and management. The organizations currently providing space tourism services are shown in the following table.
Launch service providers transport customers to and from space. There are two types of launch service providers: suborbital spaceflight (Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic) and orbital spaceflight (SpaceX, Roscosmos). The difference between an orbital and a suborbital spaceflight is illustrated below.
A suborbital spaceflight will take the customer to altitudes of over 80 km and then back down to earth in a parabolic trajectory.
An orbital spaceflight will typically take the customer to 350 km or higher in altitude and will circle the earth until it is time to dock with a space station, or return for a landing. The International Space Station (ISS) is the usual destination for orbital space tourists.
A spaceport service provider is a ground-based facility for launching and receiving spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic uses Spaceport America in New Mexico. Blue Origin uses their own private space port in Texas. SpaceX uses Cape Canaveral in Florida for human spaceflight launches. Roscosmos uses Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for human spaceflight launches.
An orbital destination is a large artificial satellite orbiting the earth used for long-term human operations in space, e.g. ISS. There are currently two orbital destination service providers: NASA for the US ISS segments, and Roscosmos for the Russian ISS segments. Space tourists are carried to and from the US ISS segments by SpaceX, and by Roscosmos for the Russian ISS segments. The US will support up to four private astronauts at a time; Russia will support up to two. The following image is a picture of the ISS.
Additional orbital destination service providers are expected to be operational by 2030. The first commercial space station expected to be operational by 2030 is Axiom Station which is illustrated below.
Private astronaut mission recruitment and management service providers primarily do the following: recruit prospective customers, setup and manage contracts with launch service providers. However, they can also offer related services such as overall mission management. There are currently three companies operating in this service area:
- Space Adventures recruits prospective customers and handles mission contracting with launch service providers. They have relationships with launch service providers SpaceX, Roscosmos and Boeing.
- Axiom Space performs a range of services including: recruiting prospective customers; mission contracting with launch service providers; training; mission planning; hardware development (for any special experiments to be performed in space); medical support; crew provisions; hardware and safety certifications; on-orbit operations; and overall mission management. They have relationships with launch service providers SpaceX and Boeing.
- Glavkosmos recruits prospective customers and handles mission contracting with Roscosmos.
All launch service providers have their own private astronaut mission recruitment and management services. They also accept mission contracts from independent private astronaut mission recruitment and management service providers.
Training service providers offer training for spacecraft, mission profile, and ISS:
- Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic provide space vehicle orientation and training on safety procedures.
- SpaceX provides training for their Crew Dragon space capsule and mission profile.
- Roscosmos provides training for their Soyuz MS space capsule, mission profile, and Russian ISS segments.
- NASA provides training for the American ISS segments.
- NASTAR provides private astronaut training which allows them to experience the flight profile of different space vehicles. They offer programs for Orbital Spaceflight Participant Training and Suborbital Spaceflight Participant Training.
- NOLS provides wilderness survival training which will be useful in the event the spacecraft lands off course.
- ZeroG provides private astronaut training which allows them to experience weightlessness and learn how to maneuver.