Ask the Expert: Space tourism takes off
Twenty years after the first tourist went to space and more than a decade after the last one, space tourism is making a comeback. In the near future, private companies Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic will offer tickets to fly to suborbital heights at the edge of space, where passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
A suborbital altitude is about 60 miles from Earth, compared to the altitude of the International Space Station (ISS) at a little over 250 miles. Blue Origin has an advantage over Virgin Galactic, since it is preparing for future flights that orbit the earth and provide a few hours to a couple of days of weightlessness. For now, it seems the Virgin Galactic vehicle cannot do that.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, which has been taking crew and cargo back and forth between the Earth and the International Space Station since 2012, plans to send tourists on a 10-day trip to the ISS before 2021 ends.
The price of tickets for Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic most likely will be around $250,000, which certainly is only attainable for a small percentage of the population. To travel to the ISS with SpaceX, you will pay approximately $55 million. However, as with other luxury goods, there will be enough demand for the businesses to move forward and flourish.
With private companies at the forefront of space tourism, we will soon need to have extensive technical and environmental laws in place to avoid overpopulating space and to guarantee safe travels for the passengers. Debris even in small sizes can be fatal to space travelers. Jacob Winslow ’23 and I worked on the subject of space debris and its mitigation during the 2021 Cornell Summer Research Institute. Inspired by space debris removal methods, Winslow designed and built a net launcher to catch space debris and transfer it to a lower orbit where it eventually burns in the atmosphere.
I hope soon that by advancing space technology, space travel will be safe and affordable to the general public. After all, it was the same path the airlines took not many years ago.
Assistant Professor of Engineering Niloofar Kamran holds a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, and an M.S. in aerospace engineering from Shahid Beheshti University, Iran. She joined the Cornell College faculty in 2017.