Just a few years ago, the idea of bankrolling starry-eyed ventures to fly ordinary people into space was laughed off as science fiction.
Now some investors are betting on space tourism as the next big thing.
The infant industry got a boost in June when a Boston-area investment group backed a private rocket company developing a spaceship that will take off and land like an airplane.
Pravda.ru has interviewed two space tourism experts to find out more about the future of space tourism industry.
Pravda.ru: Will the United States be able to carry out the space tourism project without the cooperation with Russia?
There are certainly plans by a number of private entrepreneurs (including of course the Virgin Group) to undertake Space Tourism activities in the near future, depending of course on the development of appropriate safety, technology, marketing and regulatory frameworks. I am not aware whether these private organisations have a connection with Russia, but it appears that, at this stage at least, the US authorities and regulatory bodies are happy for those plans to be developed and are adopting a 'wait and see attitude', says Steven Freeland, Associate Professor from the University of Western Sydney.
Pravda.ru: What other countries will be able to send tourists to space? And when?
At present, only Russia has done it (with the help of the US company Space Adventures, who find the millionaire tourists). Virgin Galactic is a UK company, and will be launching its first tourists in 2009. Starchaser is also British. The first US company will probably be Rocketplane or BensonSpace, in about 2010. The Europeans could do it using Soyuz from Guiana, once the launch pads are completed. They are trying to find money for the European EADS Astrium spaceplane, but They will not be flying tourists before 2012 at the earliest, says Derek Webber, Washington DC Director Spaceport Associates.
Pravda.ru: Is there a possibility that China will hold strong positions in the field of space tourism? If yes, then is it possible that China will lower the price of a ticket to space so much that it could oust its rivals from a new market?
China could in principal launch tourists in its Shenzhou spacecraft, once they have gained more experience in flying them, but they have not yet publicly indicated that they intend to do so. For the same reason, there has been no discussion of pricing. But of course the more competitors, then the more chance of bringing down the price. Of course, price is not the only consideration of potential space tourists in deciding on their flights, Derek Webber says.
Pravda.ru: What is the responsibility of a space tourism company in case of some accidents with tourists during the flight?
Potential space tourists are advised of the risks, and are asked to sign waivers so that the space tourism company is not liable except for gross negligence. There will be an insurance business that will develop to address this question, Derek Webber says.
Under public international law, the international space law treaties do not provide direct protection to fee-paying passengers, although the Liability Convention does have a procedure for claims to be made on a country to country basis on behalf of victims of damage caused by Space Objects. It is not entirely clear whether this covers every aspect of space tourism. There will, obviously, be legal responsibilities under private (national) law, but these will vary depending on which country we are talking about, Steven Freeland comments.
Pravda.ru: What kind of preparatory training should a space tourist do before the flight? How long does it take and what is included in it?
Obviously this will depend on the type of space tourism experience. Russia obviously has experience in orbital tourism already - involving time on the ISS - and you will no doubt be aware of the level of training required for that. In regards to sub-orbital tourism activities - of the type initially proposed by companies like Virgin Galactica - I am not sure what training will be required but it will be nothing like the level required for orbital tourism. In any event, I assume that space tourism on a sub-orbital flight will be asked to sign an acceptance of risk form acknowledging his/her own state of health. Again, the enforceability and effect of these documents will depend on the national law involved. Sub-orbital flights obviously are much shorter in time (I believe only taking a few hours) than orbital flights, Steven Freeland explains.
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