An article in the current issue of Travel Weekly (“The National Newspaper of the Travel Industry”) has a lengthy article about the emerging space tourism industry. (free registration may be required) Much of the article is a basic primer about some of the major companies in the industry, including Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic, and how travel agents are adapting to this new market.
So far, so good. The first warning sign about this article by David Cogswell comes early on, with this passage:
In the last year, entrepreneurial commercial enterprises have snatched a ball that since the days of Sputnik have been carried by a handful of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations. In a matter of a few months, they have begun generating crucial momentum for establishing a fledgling space-travel industry.
Of course, the real progress in this industry has taken years, not months: it’s hardly an overnight success. However, it’s a pretty harmless statement. It gets worse, though.
“Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) already lists 24 space tourism companies,” says Cogswell. Wikipedia-based research? Danger, Will Robinson, Danger! (A quick check of Wikipedia didn’t turn up such a list; the “Space tourism” entry lists far fewer than 24 companies.) Then, he adds, “But in reality, there are just four players with advanced business plans, and only two of those are already selling seats on spacecraft:”
So whose are those four leaders?
- Space Adventures (well, duh)
- Virgin Galactic (of course)
- Blue Origin (makes sense, once they become less secretive)
- AERA Corp. (WTF?)
So how did AERA Corp. (now Sprague Astronautics) make the cut? “This private space tourism firm, based in Temecula, N.M. [sic], plans to launch civilians on suborbital flights from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base through an agreement with the Pentagon.” A check of the web site, though, shows that the California (not New Mexico) company hasn’t made any announcements in nearly a year and a half, a long silence for a company that once planned to begin flights from the Cape at the end of this year.
If you had to pick four companies, there seems to be any number of other companies that would make the cut in place of AERA/Sprague: Rocketplane Kistler, SpaceDev/Benson Space, Armadillo, XCOR, and others. It would seem that the overall tourism industry still has a lot to learn about this emerging market.