The existing space market, which consists of the occasional satellite, scientific probe, or manned launch, will be overtaken by the space tourism industry in the coming years. The inefficiencies of these government-funded launch services will then become apparent. The ICBM-based launch architecture will eventually succumb to the undeniable superiority of the advanced spaceplane.
M.A. Bentley, Spaceplanes: From Airport to Spaceport, 23
doi:10.1007/978-0-387-76510-5_2, © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
Fig. 2.1 The prespaceplane X-38 lifting body makes a controlled gliding descent after being released from its B-52 "mothership" (courtesy NASA)
The key to this vision is the space tourist, who will make all of this possible. Beginning as early as 2009, paying passengers will begin enjoying regular "space-experience" flights in suborbital spacecraft. The vehicles that will transport these spacefaring sojourners are being built even now, as I type these words. And they are spaceplanes (Fig. 2.1).
How will the small tourist spaceplanes of today develop into the spaceliners and space tankers of tomorrow? There is no doubt they will, but just how? That is the subject of this book. One thing to keep in mind as you read along is that in space, the only way to get anywhere or transport anything is by spaceship. On Earth, there are multiple ways to travel, and they all compete with one another. Beasts of burden aside, there are various wheeled ground vehicles, some on tracks, some not. There are sea-going vessels. And there is a variety of aircraft. Each fills its own particular niche in the ecosystem of human commerce, an economic organization of amazing efficiency. This system did not grow up overnight, but has developed slowly over the course of human civilization, beginning with wooden carts and boats. In the last century we have seen the addition of aircraft to this intricate infrastructure, which are today mass-produced worldwide. The very latest additions to our planetary infrastructure have been brand new "constellations" of Earth-orbiting satellites. These include the all-important communications, navigational, and meteorological spacecraft now hovering over our Earth. As we continue our push into space, our civilization will need new ships, new ways to travel, and new infrastructure. Spaceplanes have an important role to play in the saga of space.
The days of the rocket, with its thunderous roar and billowing clouds of steam, are numbered (Fig. 2.2). Spaceplanes will inevitably replace them, in time. The space tourist will finance this change simply by engaging in space tourism. Tourism is already a multi-billion-dollar industry on Earth, and tourism in space will be no different. It will involve large sums of money being pumped into space companies, who will purchase spaceplanes for their spaceline operations. If there is money to be made in spaceplanes, you can count on spaceplanes being built in large numbers. The growth of the space tourism industry, in turn, will allow the gradual development of the spaceplanes themselves. There will be a slow and steady improvement in the performance of spaceplanes. Tourists will want to go ever higher, experience weightlessness for ever longer periods, and ride on ever sleeker craft. As bigger planes are built, more and more tourists will be able to share the experience for less and less cost, and the industry will experience a self-induced acceleration, or snowball effect.
This could happen very quickly, as millions of tourist dollars are injected into the space economy. Spaceplanes will undergo a sustained and continual improvement in size, range, and speed. Eventually the single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane will arrive, by which time space hotels will be ready to accommodate guests in Earth orbit. But the process will not stop there. Tourists will have their sights set on the Moon, and Lunar spaceplanes also will eventually appear. These events, driven by the inexorable forces of the space economy, are inevitable.
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