Updated: Feb 3
Image Credits: SPACEX
Neil de Grasse Tyson says, “the day we stop exploring is the day we commit ourselves to live on a stagnant planet devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams”. Today, human civilization has transcended from the deepest Labyrinth through exploration and innovation. The curiosity of man has brought him the power to move out of the earth and explore new frontiers.
Beginning with Yuri Gagarin in 1961, today we are preparing to send common people on a trip to the final frontier, which is not so final- The Space. From SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars to Blue Origin’s creating an enormous space hotel, the final frontier is laden with opportunities and challenges.
RISE OF PRIVATE SPACE ECONOMY
The Space economy has doubled since 2009, with an annual turnover of $216.6 billion to $446.88 Billion in 2020. The growth trajectory shows us it will reach more than $1 trillion valuation by 2039. This boom has proved how the growth of the space economy will change the outlook of the corporations towards space as an industry. The industry includes communication satellites, space stations, ground stations, spacecraft, etc.
Space tourism is also one facet of the space economy. It usually means taking a private citizen into an orbital or suborbital space flight. Private corporations like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic have already started to conceptualize an idea where advancement in space aviation would lead to the development of space tourism on the next level. It is not just limited to aviation but also includes a variety of related services ranging from hotels, food, research facilities, and recreation. For instance, Axiom Space is planning to launch the first segment of its commercial space station or space hotel by 2024, known as Ax Station, becoming the first-ever free-flying private space station.
Image Credits: NASA
THE PRIVATE BOOST
The rapid rise of Private players and constant innovation in space technology has given a significant boost to the idea of Space Colonization and the space industry. According to the Research and Markets report- Space Tourism - Global Market Trajectory and Analytics- the global market for Space Tourism estimated at the US $651 Million in the year 2020, is projected to reach a size of US$1.7 Billion by 2027, with an annual growth of 15.2% over the period 2020-2027.
The prospects are very lofty, but the cost of space flight is still high and ranges in millions for a single person. Although Elon Musk says that the scalability would significantly reduce the prices of space flight per person, the prospects are still low until a whole space-based industry is built.
SPACE TOURISM: BOON OR BANE?
Space tourism has the potential to significantly augment space debris, which can cause severe damage to satellites and future space exploration missions. As per the European Space Agency, over 331 million space junk is floating in orbit and is estimated to immensely grow with the rise in the number of launches and the growth prospects of space colonization. For instance, till today only around 12000 satellites have been launched by all the nations combined, however with the rise of private space corporations, space traffic will hugely increase, causing a mass concentration of space junk. Only SpaceX is planning to launch 42000 satellites under its Starlink project, which has the potential to gather a huge space junk in the orbit.
Image Credits: CNBC
The problem is further exacerbated because of no international law to bind nation-states to regulate space debris. No existing space treaties give a legal obligation on states to remove their space debris or to bear the cost for its removal. Nor do nations have created a specific law that regulates private space projects which also includes space tourism. Although space tourism is governed by diverse laws such as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (“Outer Space Treaty”), the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (“UN COPUS”), the Convention on International Civil Aviation (“Chicago Convention”), no law extends to every aspect of commercial space flights or covers the future of space exploration.
There is also a safety issue for the passengers. The final frontier has not yet been fully understood and has a very high-risk potential. Corporations have to look into every risk a person can face while in space, including health risks. Furthermore, taking the example of the US, the private contract must indemnify the US government for any damage to the lives of humans beyond the boundary of the earth.
Interestingly, the Federal Aviation Administration, a wing of the US Department of Transportation, differentiates between an astronaut and a space tourist. The latter is called “space flight attendant” because calling a space tourist an astronaut would mean that the government would have the responsibility to rescue the astronaut in case of any failure, which would take a lot of money. Therefore, we also lack a legal framework that guides how things should work in space.
The challenges ahead of us are great and it remains to be observed how human civilization will cope with these challenges. As said by Stanislaw Lem in his book Solaris, “Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
BY NAYAN CHANDRA MISHRA