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Commercial Space Flight


This paper shed lights on Commercial Space Flight, history, different phases, key events and challenges to Commercial space flight industry. Paper also gives brief discussion about X-Prize which gave a boost to space tourism. Furthermore, paper also discuss the contribution of Burt Rutan towards space tourism. The main focus is on Virgin Galactic, their space tourism program and hurdles. In addition, paper discuss different challenges to commercial space industry. Safety standards, Regulatory issues, and Pilot’s qualification are also discussed. Paper concludes that commercial space tourism industry will prosper in coming years as suggested by different researches.

Commercial Space Flight

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Space Tourism
  • Phases of Space Tourism
  • Pioneering Phase
  • Mature Phase
  • Mass Phase
  • X- Prize
  • Virgin Galactic
  • Burt Rutan
  • Commercial Space industry- Challenges
  • Conclusion
  • References


Space tourism is traveling to space for recreational or business purposes. Space commercialism is use of out space for various kinds of services. Initially satellite navigation system and satellite television system were deployed into outer space. By 1980s, humans were sent into space to watch over equipment and services deployed there. This eventually led to the idea of space tourism where people can pay and travel in space. It can be said that year 2000 was birth year of Space Tourism. Space tourism industry is considered as huge source of revenue in coming years. That’s why in 2004, it was estimated that investment in all space sectors was around $50.8 billion (Romano, Burns, & Grubbs). There are different companies who have started work to launch space tourism and Virgin Galactic is the prominent one.

Space Tourism has potential to be economic driver in upcoming years. It is said that space tourism industry will be a billion dollar industry in next ten years. Futron Corporation conducted a study which revealed that by 2021, the revenue of space tourism industry will be more than $650 million (Spencer & Stelling). However, space tourism opportunities are limited and expensive. There are different companies selling orbital flights such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace.

Aviation prizes has a long history of inspiring innovation. The X Prize is one example. The first company to launch a reusable launch vehicle which can carry general tourists to Space would be awarded $10 million prize money. In 2004, this prize was won by Scaled Composites.

Space Tourism

Space Tourism is the term we often heard and it seems quite adventurous and dreamy. It can be defined simply as general public buying ticket to travel to space and back. A research suggested that most people in developed countries would like to go to space. However, there are two major problems: space tourism is very expensive and there are limited space flights. Now companies are working on manufacturing low cost and reusable spaceships which can be used for space tourism. Moreover, a lot of research is done on how to reduce costs and make space tourism more attractive for general public.

Phases of Space Tourism

Like other businesses, there are multiple phases in space tourism. It started on a very small scale with a very high price. It will grow in future and prices will fall and eventually it will become a business like aviation.

  • Pioneering Phase

Pioneering phase can be considered as initial phase of Space Tourism. There are limited space flights and prices are very high. It can be said that not everybody can afford space flights in this phase. Moreover, services can be named as adventure travel rather than luxury hotel-style. (Space Tourism, n.d.)

  • Mature Phase

In this phase, the number of applications for space travel will be in thousands. Travel expenditures will be low and there will many airports working as departure place. There will be advancement in orbital facilities. A range of orbital entertainment activities will be possible in this phase. (Space Tourism, n.d.)

  • Mass Phase

This phase will be the most prosperous phase for tourism industry. Travel expenditures will be affordable to majority of people and maximum facilities will also be available. It can be said that in this phase, millions of passengers will travel per year. Space Tourism industry will continue to grow like aviation industry as there is no reason to believe why it should not.


X-PRIZE is a non-profit organization which encourages advancement in technology. In 1996, they announced an international space contest intended to jump start space tourism. The first non-governmental group to make a make a sub orbital flight to an altitude of 100km or 62 miles, twice within two weeks, will win the $10-million-dollar prize. Astronaut Mike Melvill won this prize when he fulfilled requirement using Space Shione designed by Burt Rutan. (David, 2004)

Virgin Galactic

There are many companies working on making space travel easy for general public and Virgin Galactic is prominent one. It is a spaceflight company within the Virgin Group. It is manufacturing commercial spacecraft which can be used for suborbital space flights. Although the company wanted to send maiden flight by 2009, but it was delayed due to various reasons. There are around 300 people who have booked space flight at $200,000 each (Allen, 2009). Most recently, in 2014, Spaceship two was crashed which also delayed the maiden flight.

Virgin Galactic has been working on various kind of fuels used in spacecraft. Initially there were experimenting on rubber based fuel which didn’t meet the expectations. So, the company started experiments on plastic based fuel. Until now, three flights of SS2 have only reached an altitude of 13 miles or 71,000 feet. However, company needs to reach 62 miles height if Federal Aviation Administration license to carry passengers to space is to be obtained. However, SS2 faced a disaster in mid-flight which halted the progress. It was reported that company received serious backlash from those who paid for space flights with Virgin Galactic. Tom Bower wrote that Virgin Galactic spent 10 years to manufacture perfect engine but failed to do so. (Porter, 2014)

Burt Rutan

Our discussion regarding space tourism and space flight will be incomplete without Burt Rutan. In 2004, Burt Rutan’s designed craft named SpaceShipone reached space. This project was conducted by Mojave Aerospace Ventures. This spacecraft won Ansari X prize. Moreover, project team was awarded with Collier Trophy. It can be said that Burt Rutan has been key behind all efforts to bring spaceflight to public. Most importantly, it was Burt Rutan’s technology which he later licensed to Virgin and it gave birth to Virgin Galactic. (Seedhouse, 2014)

Commercial Space Flight Industry- Challenges

The biggest challenge commercial space industry is facing is safety of passengers and spacecraft. The main focus of companies is how to make this journey safe for passengers. It is believed that with the passage of time, as the industry gets matured, safety standards will also improve. Regulatory Risk is another risk for this industry. Uncertain regulatory environment is challenge for commercial space industry. So, a complete legal framework is required.

Another challenge for space industry is getting a qualified pilot. The biggest fear of passengers is that if pilot is qualified enough to handle all sorts of situation during flight. So, FAA has set some basic qualification standards for pilots of human spaceflights. FAA pilot certificate with instrument rating is basic qualification. Experience in flying aircraft while wearing spacecraft suit is also required. Most importantly, suborbital flight skills are also necessary. In short, a detailed, systematic and thorough training process is required to train a pilot for space journey.  (Goehlich, Anderson, Harrold, & Nathan )


Regardless of challenges, it is evident that space tourism and commercial spaceflights has great future ahead. It is necessary that proper regulation is done to ensure that highest safety standards are maintained. As discussed earlier, it is possible that space tourism industry can grow like aviation industry only if expenditures for general public are reduced and highest safety standers are implemented.

  • Allen, N. (2009, Dec 8). Richard Branson unveils Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/6761213/Richard-Branson-unveils-Virgin-Galactics-spaceship-Enterprise.html
  • David, L. (2004, October 4). SpaceShipOne Wins $10 Million Ansari X Prize in Historic 2nd Trip to Space. Retrieved from https://www.space.com: https://www.space.com/403-spaceshipone-wins-10-million-ansari-prize-historic-2nd-trip-space.html
  • Goehlich, R. A., Anderson, J., Harrold, N., & Nathan , N. (n.d.). PILOTS FOR SPACE TOURISM.
  • Porter, T. (2014). Doubts About Feasibility of Virgin Space Flights, as Branson Announces New Delays. Retrieved from https://www.ibtimes.co.uk: https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/doubts-about-feasibility-virgin-space-flights-branson-announces-new-delays-1465412
  • Romano, C. A., Burns, M., & Grubbs, C. (n.d.). SPACE A Report on the Industry.
  • Seedhouse, E. (2014). Tourists in Space: A Practical Guide. Springer.
  • Space Tourism. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.spacefuture.com: https://www.spacefuture.com/tourism/introduction.shtml
  • Spencer, J., & Stelling, M. (n.d.). Capuring An Industry Commercial Space Flight.

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