April 09, 2009

Interview with Tom Shelley, Vice President of Marketing for Space Adventures

Space Adventures has a video animation on its site that illustrates the new lunar flyby mission (privately experience what Jim Lovell a few others did - not the Apollo 13 hazard but the good missions)

This is an interview with Tom Shelley by Sander Olson. Tom is the Vice President of Marketing for Space Adventures, Ltd. Space Adventures is the only company providing space access to tourists. They have been in the news lately because of the flight of Charles Simonyi to the International Space Station. Here are the main points of the interview:

- Space access costs are increasing and may continue to increase for the next few years, due to the fact the growing demand for Soyuz capacity and the limited availability of man-rated rockets. Beyond that, however, space access costs should massively decrease due to next-generation launch systems emerging.

-The current cost for an orbital flight is $35 million, and $100 million for a lunar flyby. U.S. rockets like the Delta are not man-rated and are substantially more expensive than Soyuz, so Soyuz is currently the only game in town for commercial orbital flights. Chinese rockets are being developed and they might be appropriate for such missions in the future.

-Space Adventures needs two paying customers to proceed with the lunar flyby mission. The mission will include three customers, one of whom is the pilot/commander. The mission would include one pass around the farside of the moon, and would take about a week.

-Although near-term commercial space plans revolve around tourism and satellites, there are numerous other potentially lucrative space enterprises, such as mining asteroids and space-based solar power, either of which could become multi-billion dollar industries. Once space-access costs are sufficiently reduced, orbital hotels should become feasible, and Space Adventures is very interested in that concept.

- The commercial space industry is poised for exponential growth, similar to the growth that occured a century ago with airplanes. The commercial airline industry acheived critical mass in the 1930s, during the heighth of the Great Depression, so this recession will not stop the exponential growth.

Tom Shelley Interview

Question 1: In what ways is your company, Space Adventures, unique?

: Space Adventures, which was formed in 1998, is the pioneer in the field of private spaceflight. We are the only company to have actually put private citizens into space. We also offer zero-g flights through our subsidiary, the zero-g corporation. If you are a private citizen and you want to go into space, our company is currently your only viable option.

Question 2. What are the current costs for an orbital flight? How will pricing change during the next few years?

: Although prices fluctuate, they will range from $35 million to $100 million. An orbital manned spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is $35 million. Charles Simoni, who we launched to the ISS, is paying $35 million for the privilege. A lunar flyby mission is $100 million, and we are taking orders for that now.

Question 3. Will costs increase or decrease during the next decade?

: Costs should increase during the next few years, but decrease substantially once new technologies emerge. The only way into orbit at the moment is through the Russian Soyuz system, and prices have been going up as demand for space on the capsules has increased. Governments, including NASA, are buying flights from the Russians, so supply is quite limited.

Question 4. Is Space Adventures developing its own Rocket or spacecraft?

: We are not a developer/manufacturer, but an experience provider. There are next-generation launch vehicles currently being developed, and it is our intention to utilize some of these systems for our clients

Question 5: Has NASA been a positive or negative force for commercial space exploration?

: NASA has been supportive of our clients. They go to NASA for training, and while NASA does not supply the flight, they have been a constructive force in what we are trying to do. In particular, the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) is benefiting private space corporations by providing them a revenue opportunity.

Question 6: To what extent is the global recession affecting space tourism?

: The economic downturn naturally has an impact, but there are people out there who take a longer-term view regarding their dreams and aspirations. Overall, there are a huge number of individuals who want to go into space. It is important to remember that the aerospace industry achieved critical mass during the great depression in the 1930s.

Question 7: What steps could the Government take to encourage the commercial development of space?

: More than anything else, the Government should ensure that the regulatory environment does not become overly restrictive and stifle the development of new spaceflight technologies. The Government is doing a good job in this regard so far, and we hope it continues. Of course, having the Government as a customer would help any industry to grow. The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) is a good example of that.

Question 8: Describe the Space Adventures Lunar Mission package.

: The package will technically get started when we have two paying customers. Several potential customers have shown interest. The mission itself will involve one pass around the farside of the moon, and would cost $100 million per customer. The spacecraft would contain three people, two of whom would be paying customers, and one of whom would be the spacecraft commander/pilot. The mission would last about a week from start to finish.

Question 9: Has Space Adventures examined the feasibility of orbital hotels?

: We are interested in the subject, and there are organizations actively researching the concept. There is undoubtedly a market for orbital hotels, but access to the hotels is a key question that needs to be answered - customers need to be able to access the hotels essentially at will.

Question 10: Besides tourism and satellites, what other commercial markets exist for space development corporations?

: There are a number of other commercial opportunities for space development. The mineral wealth in the asteroids is vast, and includes both common and precious metals. So mining the asteroids could eventually turn into a multi-billion dollar industry. Space-based solar power generation is another promising field, since the power could transmit electricity to the earth continuously.

Question 11: Some have argued that the space industry is poised for exponential growth. Do you agree?

: Absolutely. To date, fewer than 500 people have actually been to space. But there is enough activity going on now to reduce the cost of space access, and next-generation launch systems that provide regular access to space are actively being developed. Significantly more people will travel to space in the next two decades than in the past fifty years of manned spaceflight.

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