- A new era of vacations will soon enter the world’s $9.2 trillion tourism economy: orbital ones.
- The trips will use everything from giant balloons to space hotels with simulated gravity.
- These are some of the top space companies planning to kick off tourist trips within the decade.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Before the pandemic, the tourism and travel industry was booming; in fact, in 2019, it contributed $9.2 trillion to the global GDP.
But that’s just the terrestrial stuff. Some companies have recently begun to invest large amounts of time and money into what they think could be the next big thing in the already-massive tourism market: space.
NASA helped kickstart the idea of space tourism in 2019 by declaring the International Space Station open to commercial businesses and private astronauts, meaning tourists could get the chance to stop by. This move got companies like Axiom Space interested in the prospect of space tourism, but other companies like Space Perspective, Zero2Infinity, and The Gateway Foundation have been interested for much longer.
In January of this year, Houston-based company Axiom Space announced it would be sending its vice president and a crew of three tourists to the ISS for eight days onboard a Dragon spacecraft.
Shortly after the initial announcement, on June 2, Axiom announced a substantial update to its partnership with SpaceX. Instead of a single mission to the ISS, the companies would now be launching four missions to the ISS with tourists onboard. The first of these missions is approved to launch in January 2022, with the following three taking place through 2023.
But the goal isn’t to just keep using the ISS — it’s to work toward a standalone private station.
Axiom calls these missions “precursor missions” designed to prepare for the launch of Axiom Station modules, which are essentially areas where crew members can live and work. The company plans to detach these modules later and convert them to a standalone private space station by 2028.
Smaller space-tourism companies are focused on offering a shorter, more unique experience to customers — as long as they’ve got an extra $125,000 for a ticket.
Space Perspective, a US-based startup, plans to take eight passengers at a time on a suborbital flight to the edge of space onboard its “Neptune Capsule.” What makes this experience unique is that the passenger capsule will fly up via a specially designed stratospheric balloon designed to reach an altitude of about 19 miles. The first commercial flights are set to begin in late 2024.
Zero2Infinity is another company offering customers the opportunity to gently float to the edge of space using an enormous helium balloon.
The key differences between the two experiences are the altitude ceiling and the number of seats available per flight. Zero2Infinity will achieve a higher altitude of 22 miles but only accommodate up to four customers, but will otherwise offer a very similar customer experience: beautiful views, drinks, and once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities.
The Gateway Foundation
Over the next decade, taking short trips to space will likely become a standard form of tourism for those who have around six figures of disposable income. But companies aren’t stopping there — they plan to create full-on orbital vacations.
While an exact definition of an “orbital vacation” has yet to be established, it is essentially a multi-day stay in a sort of hotel designed to maintain a position in low-earth orbit.
In 2019, California company The Gateway Foundation released plans for its proposed luxury space hotel called Voyager Station. Scheduled to open in 2027, Voyager Station would be humanity’s first operational space hotel for tourists. Composed of 24 separate habitation modules that include amenities such as a restaurant, event center, villas, and research labs, the floating hotel would offer tourists a complete orbital vacation.
The physics of such a hotel would rely on a rotating wheel design that would create a small amount of simulated gravity — one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, to be exact. Construction of the sizable wheel-shaped hotel would occur mainly in orbit using automated and remote-controlled robots, eliminating the risk to any human builders. Once completed, Voyager Station will be the largest manufactured structure in space.
Other companies have previously attempted to construct commercial space stations and failed — a difficult reminder that space is hard. Orion Span is a perfect example of this, having to cancel its Aurora Space Station project almost certainly due to a lack of necessary funding.
Initially planned to launch this year and begin taking passengers in 2022, some willing folks even gave Orion Span the required $80,000 deposit to reserve a spot before the project failed. Luckily, according to the company, they were all refunded in full.
Space tourism will likely continue to make up a small subsector of the travel and tourism industry over the next few years, but it will only continue to grow. As more companies throw their hat into the ring, create more jobs, and bring more potential to the industry, space tourism will eventually become mainstream.
But there are still a few significant issues to address before space tourism can become something more than an exotic activity exclusively for the wealthy. Ticket prices need to come down, larger passenger capacities are required, and safety tests need to occur before large numbers of people visiting space becomes viable. Luckily, these are all things that can be achieved with time.
Maybe one day, taking a trip to low-Earth orbit will become as common as spending a week in Hawaii.