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Ad Astra
Volume 15, Number 3 June/July/August 2003


The Human Journey
By Brian E. Chase, NSS Executive Director

I hope you had a chance to read this issue’s column by Eric Anderson of Space Adventures. His op-ed focuses on an announcement that RSA has agreed to resume flying Soyuz flights with paying tourists to the International Space Station, with the first such launch in 2005 after the Space Shuttle has resumed flights and ISS supplies and logistics are back to normal.

So what makes this announcement remarkable? These Soyuz flights will be 100% dedicated to tourism, with two paying customers on each flight, instead of only one. This is good news for everyone involved, including Russia, the United States, and all ISS partner nations, because it gives Russia additional revenue to continue Soyuz production, and if the demand is high enough to manifest multiple private Soyuz launches, those capsules could become a supplemental part of the supply chain needed to support ISS.

This announcement also highlights the importance of the private sector efforts to build a space access infrastructure. Yet some of the most exciting and promising developments in this area are occurring in companies that aren’t even planning to reach orbit with the vehicles currently in development. Instead, these efforts are aimed at achieving suborbital altitudes.

But even as they tackle the financial and technical challenges to achieve their objective, some of the biggest hurdles they face are government regulations. Suborbital launches do not fit into the existing descriptions of either aircraft or spacecraft, so the federal regulatory structure is struggling to develop ways to handle (i.e. regulate) this new breed of vehicle. NSS will be taking an active role to help these companies overcome this hurdle and help the government understand the importance of their efforts. Let the success or failure of these efforts rest on their merits, not because of the limitations imposed by government bureaucracy.

The long term prospects of the suborbital launch sector in many ways can reshape the way we approach the exploration and development of space. If even one of the more than twenty teams competing for the X-Prize are successful, that has the potential to spawn a huge “near-space” tourism market (see Futron’s recent ASCENT report at www.futron.com), which in turn will build the business base needed for investment in new orbital launch systems. Unlike past efforts to build new launch vehicles, at least some of these teams have the very real potential to be successful, and in doing so fundamentally change the space industry. I advise you to closely watch these vastly underestimated suborbital launch efforts—they may fundamentally change the way we approach space transportation.

The lesson for all of us, whether we’re talking about the resumption of Soyuz tourist flights or the ongoing efforts in the suborbital launch sector, is to ensure free market forces can work within the space business sector. While government funding of many missions will remain critical for decades to come, we must ensure government policies and regulations don’t inhibit private sector solutions. Democratic capitalism has built successful nations around the globe, and we shouldn’t ignore its potential in overcoming our most pressing barriers to exploring, developing, and settling space.

Ad Astra!

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