Space entrepreneurs and pundits have been promising a bold future of space tourism for the past decade. A wave of recent articles documents the slow progress space startups are making towards that future:
- Virgin Galactic’s plans are delayed by a year (Bloomberg)
- Stratolaunch makes progress on its 747-based Stratolauncher (Bloomberg)
- Blue Origin completes testing the BE-3 suborbital rocket engine (The Space Review)
- Final Frontier Design will sell $65K spacesuits to suborbital tourists (New York Magazine)
- Spaceports are being built around the world (Airline Fleet Magazine)
- Spaceport America, home to Virgin Galactic, has opened its tourist center (Albuquerque Journal)
What does it mean for amateurs? You wouldn’t think it would mean much for the 99% of us who can’t afford the ticket prices these companies will charge. And yet if these companies can actually deliver on their vision, they will create new opportunities for amateur space exploration. Amateur and student projects will ride into space right along with the professional research. It’s already happening on a different scale through programs like these:
- JP Aerospace’s PongSats and Marsballoon’s Kinder Egg capsules carry thousands of student experiments into the stratosphere in high-altitude balloons
- Drop tower programs like Celere let students conduct microgravity experiments.
- Parabolic flight operators ZeroG Corporation and Air Zero G let tourists experience microgravity and have carried student projects on their research flights.
Virgin Galactic, XCor Aerospace, Blue Origin, World View, Zero2Infinity, and similar space startups are chasing the same markets. They will cut prices as they compete with each other for business from the same scientists and wealthy adventure tourists. They will also look for new markets like the schools and amateur scientists.
Several companies are already getting ready. Nastar Center, Sirius, and Astronauts 4 Hire offer training programs for the researchers and tourists who will take suborbital hops into space. Citizens in Space conducts workshops to teach makers and educators how to build experiments that will fly into space. Teachers in Space will even do exactly what’s on the label - send teachers on suborbital flights to support science in schools.
It's just a matter of time before these new space startups are in business. That's when the doors will open for amateurs of all ages to explore the extreme environment of space - no spacesuit required.
If you like what you’ve read, why not make a contribution of your own? Give me feedback on the articles you’ve read or suggest amateur projects that deserve promotion. Every little bit helps - thanks!