Samuel M. Coniglio, IV
The World Travel Tourism Council estimates that 1995 revenues for tourism worldwide was $3.4 trillion.1 The city of Orlando, Florida (including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World), is one of the largest tourism centers in the United States. In a recent economic impact study, Orlando received an economic impact of $13.1 billion in 1995 from theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers.2
NASA's 1994 Commercial Space Transport Study points to a potential for great profit for those who would make tourism in space safe and practical. Space tourism would fit into the category of "exotic" or "adventure" vacations. Opportunities such as climbing Mount Everest and taking a world cruise also fit in these categories. "Adventure" tourism revenues for 1993 were $324 billion.3
Several new companies have formed to tap into the nascent space tourism market, such as LunaCorp (with its moon rover project),4 but they have had limited success. What space tourism needs is the involvement of a major tourism or entertainment company to legitimize the industry. This abstract will discuss the first steps that company needs to take to spur growth in the space tourism industry. While no single travel agency has the resources to create a new market, there are several major entertainment companies that do. Walt Disney World, MCA/Universal, Paramount, and Time/Warner are just a few examples. Any one of these organizations could profit greatly from the public relations stirred up by a space tourism venture.
This paper will discuss two projects in which a major entertainment or tourism corporation could get involved immediately. First, cross-industry communication can be initiated through conferences between leaders of the hotel, tourism, entertainment, aerospace, and other related industries. Second, the dream of recreational space travel can be brought closer to reality through a phased approach, starting with the encouragement of cheap, reusable access to low-Earth orbit (LEO), development of simulator rides and virtual reality shows based on actual space projects, and solicitation of bids for constructing space cruise ships and an orbital hotel.
While researching for this paper, this author discussed the space tourism concept with a representative of a major entertainment company based in Orlando, Florida. The representative expressed great interest in these ideas, but was concerned with issues such as revenue generation, demographics of the tourists, and other expenses.
In 1994, a comprehensive market survey on space tourism was conducted in Japan by the Japanese Rocket Society (JRS). Over 3,000 people responded to the survey. Using a conservative estimate, if a ticket for an orbital flight cost in the range of $12,000 to $24,000, the "world demand for orbital tourism services could reach a level of more than ... $12 billion per year (in 1994 U.S. dollars)."5 Tom Rogers, president of the Space Transportation Association in the USA, points out that Japan is a relative newcomer to the space transportation arena.6 "Japan, therefore does not have as great an historical inertia to deal with as does the United States" with space matters. The Japanese society has a less restricted perception of the challenge of space development and is more receptive to new space ideas than American society. In the United States, "our aerospace industry, and our space-responsible Congressional and Executive Branch offices, are having a difficult time coming to grips with such ... new 'conditions' after conducting the space transportation business ... for some 40 years under quite different institutional and financial circumstances."7 The Association has recently initiated a similar tourism study with NASA for the United States.
Mr. Rogers presented the following data to compare revenues and expenses of a commercial space vehicle with a commercial jet aircraft:8
Table 1. Wide-Bodied Commercial Jet Aircraft Space Transportation Vehicles Number Produced or to be Produced 1000 50
Price per vehicle (in hundreds of million Yen)* 200 ¥ 1000 ¥ Trips per year 720 300 Useful Lifetime(years) 20 10 Per Vehicle, per Trip
Amortization Cost (in tens of thousands of Yen)** 220 ¥ 4300 ¥ Cost of Fuel (in tens of thousands of Yen) 200 ¥ 1600 ¥ Miscellaneous Costs (in tens of thousands of Yen) 200 ¥ 2000 ¥ Total Cost (in tens of thousands of Yen) 620 ¥ 7900 ¥ Passengers 300 50 Cost per Passenger (in tens of thousands of Yen) 2.1 ¥ 160 ¥ Passengers per Year 200 million 750,000 Gross Revenues per Year 4200 billion ¥ 1200 billion ¥ *100 ¥ = about $1 U.S. (December, 1994)
**Assumes a 5%-per-year cost of capital in Japan. (The cost of capital for this kind of activity is about 3 times higher in the United States.)
The first step is communication. Meetings between the leaders of the tourism, entertainment, hotel, aerospace, and other related industries can be sponsored by a company with the clout to be taken seriously. These discussions must start at a very high level. (This author has attended several aerospace conferences, and can vouch for the fact that the events tend to bore non-technical people, or scare them away with the technical jargon.) Issues to be discussed would include: who would pay for a trip into space? How much estimated profit could be gained? What are the costs versus the benefits of doing space tourism/entertainment? Are there better alternative activities, such as simulators or virtual reality? What would be the estimated tourist traffic? Can the ticket prices be set low enough to attract the most people? Is it safe? Is it reliable? Some tentative answers to these questions have been given in the preceding paragraphs, but they still need to be fine-tuned. After these questions have been answered, the groundwork for communication will be established.
Space tourism, like any other industry, requires a broad infrastructure in place before it can become practical. The following is a sample list of conference topics and the industries that need to be represented as part of the space tourism infrastructure:
Once these groups get together, it is recommended that special interest groups be established between industries with common goals. For example: entertainment, hotel, and tourism companies can work together on the requirements for a space hotel, and aerospace and construction companies can propose different designs. The groups work out the details of cost, safety, reliability, comfort, amenities, and entertainment. Patrick Collins, a researcher for Japanese space organizations, stated in a 1994 article from the Journal of Practical Applications in Space that a space hotel would be much easier to design and build than the U.S./international space station. The reason is simple: no fancy scientific equipment is needed, and little government bureaucracy is required.10
The closest tourism analogy to recreational space travel is the cruise ship industry.11 Both require expensive investments and require the support of many people. They also have similar infrastructure (for example, harbor = launch facility). Cruise ships, like airlines, are profitable only when they have many paying passengers. This implies that a space cruise ship would be required to handle a large number of passengers to make a profit.
While there have been several attempts at developing a low-cost, reusable space vehicle (the X-30 Orient Express and the Delta Clipper Experimental, for example), all of these projects were government-funded, and dependent on the government as prime customer. Several new companies have started developing reusable space vehicles without government support, such as Advent Launch Services,12 Kistler Space Company,13 and Kelly Space & Technology.14 This new generation of launch companies is seeking private sector investment in their technology, and are looking for customers for their first flights.15
First, theme parks, rides and exhibits can be developed to educate the public about new space endeavors. The public has always been interested in space. The popularity of science fiction television and films such as the Star Wars or the Star Trek television series have a broad appeal. Shows such as "Star Tours" at the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, "Back to the Future" at Universal Studios, and "Space Mountain" at Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, combine the public's interest in space with adventure rides. The FuturePort experience park being built in Long Beach, California, is an example of an entire theme park devoted to space for entertainment.17 The first phase will open in 1999 at a cost of $169 million. "Based on conventional theme park development estimates, should the FuturePort attract 2,000,000 visitors in the first year, then the warranted investment could be as high as $200,000,000."18
A possible low-end space tourism option for an entertainment company is to get involved with the LunaCorp Lunar Rover Project. LunaCorp was formed in 1989 by a group of ex-NASA officials, businessmen, and space activists with the common goal of finding non-traditional funding mechanisms for space exploration and development. In 1999, LunaCorp will send two rovers to the Moon. One rover will be remote-controlled by tourists using a virtual reality system; the other will be used by paying scientists. The rovers are being built by the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.19 Dr. "Red" Whittaker is the world's foremost large mobile robotics engineer (having built robots such as Dante II, which descended into Alaska's Mount Spurr volcano in 1994, and NASA's Ambler prototype walking robot for Mars). This program is sponsored by Mitsubishi Corporation and is looking to fly in a modified Japanese H-2 rocket.20
LunaCorp is planning to set up exhibits and shows based on its rovers. This project is perfect for a simulator ride. Once the rovers are on the Moon, tourists will be able to control the robot and see it in action. With the involvement of an entertainment company, more rovers could be developed, enabling more people to "play" on the Moon.
Second, the entertainment company can start soliciting proposals for space cruise ships capable of carrying twenty passengers for three-hour orbital tours. The JRS and Kawasaki Heavy Industries already have designs for such a vehicle.21 Gary Hudson, the rocket pioneer from Pacific American Launch Systems, Inc., famous for his Phoenix single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) launch vehicle concept, is now developing ROTON, a vehicle that flies into the upper atmosphere like a helicopter and then switches to rockets to reach LEO.22 These vehicles do not require state-of-the-art technologies, but rather commercial off-the-shelf equipment for most of their construction. Also, the competitors for NASA's X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle Program (Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, and Rockwell) could apply their technologies to a commercial tourist transport.
Third, after several successful flights of the passenger cruise ships, the entertainment company can start soliciting proposals for a space hotel. Shimizu Corporation is one of the largest construction companies in Japan. In 1987, it opened a Space Project office and was the first construction company to develop the design and construction of extraterrestrial structures. With their experience in the terrestrial construction market, including hotels, dams, and nuclear power plants, the company has been developing new techniques and technologies for space exploration and development. Shimizu has been doing advanced research on space stations, space factories, lunar bases, and rocket launch facilities.23
The time has come to bring space access to the public. The demand for space tourism exists, and the first company to develop the market will reap millions of dollars in profit. Several lesser-known organizations have started to develop niche markets, but have had limited success on their own. What is needed is an organization with the vision, creativity, and financial resources to tap those niche markets, sponsor some while contracting others, and develop a fun and entertaining commercial space industry that will make space travel practical and commonplace.