Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where did all these suborbital space tourism companies come from??

Were you absent when the suborbital tourism movement was being coined?

Did you miss the philosophy lessons?

Gather 'round young ones, let's sit on the grass and discuss the beliefs that make men build planes when they really want to be building rockets.

Way back in the 70s, the realization that space would never be a frontier until launch costs had been reduced led many to pin their hopes on the Space Transportation System, and later on the only surviving component: the shuttle.

During the 80s, it became obvious that the shuttle would never achieve a reduction in the cost of access to space and, in fact, NASA had stopped claiming that this was the goal of that program.

During the 90s, various rag-tag efforts were made to turn LEO and MEO commsat launch into a massive market which would require the kind of launch capability that only a fully reusable vehicle could service - something like the mythical DC-X that many believed was killed for challenging the Shuttle.

Some say they actually succeeded.. others say they only succeeded in getting funding for the development of the launch vehicles. In either case, some money started flowing into the industry and attempts were made, using the best technology and techniques of the day, to finally, sincerely, make a reusable launch vehicle.

The boom led to the crash, as it inevitably does with capital mal-investment, and many recognized that they never had a chance of success. Although there are still some who say that simply not enough money was spent, there are cooler heads - because they are more humble - who say they simply didn't have the talent or the technology in-hand to make a good go of it.

Depression set in for some time, but eventually leaders emerged. They suggested that perhaps there was another market that could be serviced by a reusable launch vehicle - a market which is more tolerate of risk, more price elastic, and ready to fly immediately. Perhaps there is a market in which an unskilled team could start slowly, build experience of actually flying and make money along the way. That market was space tourism and, like a wave, it would carry a company from the ground, to the air, above the atmosphere, into orbit and beyond - if they could hold on.

But I go on, look at the time, we should go inside before it starts raining.