NASA is not the only power player in US space exploration. SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are all making a name for themselves. The difference is that NASA is concerned with public service and pure science. The private sector space agencies are more interested in the almighty dollar. That means they will be staging projects geared toward profitable exploration, like mining interstellar bodies for lucrative minerals and space tourism. And whenever there is a buck to be made competition is sure to arise. Americans only need to look East to find competitor nations joining the profitable space race. Who will the gringa be rooting for? Read on and find out. Here are the Asian contenders who have certainly got game:
JAPAN: PD Aerospace acknowledges that the company is lagging behind their US counterparts. However, Shuji Ogawa, the company’s CEO, doesn’t seem at all disheartened by this. He believes there is enough consumer and investor interest to go around. Pretty much every single Earthling would love to realize the dream of a trip into space. Even if PD Aerospace is dead last in the race to launch cosmic tourists, there will still be plenty of money to be made.
PD is looking to use a re-usable spacecraft that resembles a plane. It will have an alternating propulsion system using jet and rocket technologies. Passenger capacity of 8, crew capacity of 2, will make for a very personalized tour. Flight limitation is 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. That is where outer space and Earth’s atmosphere meet.
So when will this bird get off the ground? First flight is expected to launch in just 3 more years. Trials are scheduled for another 3 years. So, in less than a decade the non-average Joe, with an extra quarter million of disposable income, can take to the highest heavens.
It will take some time for revenue to affect the company’s bottom line and lower the cost of a ticket. Eventually, a space flight will become affordable enough for even the regular average Joe. PD hopes to eventually bring ticket cost down to the $3,600 range. That’s a relief to the gringa!
CHINA: Kuang-Chi Science has a bit more swagger to their space travel chatter. They believe Asia is a better market for space tourism than the US. This means that even though they got a slower start than private American space firms, they are confident they will become more profitable much quicker.
The gringa loves their space flight plan to use a giant helium balloon to lift a capsule to the same dizzying heights as PD. With the same passenger capacity the main difference between the two trips will be that PD’s flight will have the fireworks and noise of rocket propulsion while Kuang-Chi will deliver a steady, peaceful glide. A quiet ride is very appealing to the gringa.
The chairman of the company, Liu Ruopeng, points out that passengers have no need of skills training or to be physically fit. The Kuang-Chi balloon trip to the edge of the cosmos is open to everyone. The gringa appreciates this sense of inclusiveness.
Another cool aspect to China’s space tourism model is that it will double as a scientific data gathering mission. On board is a platform that collects meteorological and agricultural information that is transmitted to networks on the ground. Being a tourist means also being a passive citizen-scientist. Your ticket to ride funds research and environmental monitoring that can help make the world a better place.
Kuang-Chi is also determined to be competitive. Although they haven’t announced how much a ticket will be, they have made it clear that it will be significantly less than what their competitors will offer. So start saving up your money. They have already begun test flights with their spacecraft “Traveler” and a turtle was the first passenger! Tourism is scheduled to begin in 3 years.
MALAYSIA: Although one might not equate this southeast Asia nation with innovative technology, with the creation of Independence-X, it is changing people’s minds about the who’s who in space travel. Look for this company to have a robotic spacecraft on the Moon’s surface sometime this year. If successful, it will certainly catch the eye of investors. A successful lunar landing will hopefully spur funding for space tourism technology development. So, although they are not yet in the race, they are definitely warming up in the batter’s box.
So who is the gringa rooting for? Kuang-Chi Science. I must admit my soft spot for positive business modeling that features inclusiveness, consumer affordability, environmental activism and… is pet friendly! I would like to join that turtle in space flight that will not just be a thrilling vacation of a lifetime but will also perform a service to my fellow Earthlings!
Image Credit: Cosmos TV