As the title suggests we are drawing ever closer to improving access to space for fee-paying astronauts (or space flight participants [SFP]). The conference provided an opportunity for most of the players who presented at the 2009 event to give an update on their progress. Suborbital companies such as XCOR and Virgin Galactic (VG) have test flown various prototypes and are in the final stages of their rocket engine development. In the orbital domain Excalibur Almaz presented their cislunar program using legacy Russian equipment and Space Adventures also detailed their ‘to the Moon and back’ program – once again using their partnership arrangement with the Russians.
All of these companies have come a long way since 2009 though one could argue that back then they stated their intent to be flying commercially by 2012. The phrase ‘at the end of next year’ came up a few times throughout the day and this was mentioned again later in the day by one of VG’s customers – Trevor Beattie. He signed up with VG in 2005 and has heard this phrase many tomes from the prospective ‘first’ spaceliner company. Trevor provided a light-hearted account of being one of the SFPs including 10 questions he is always asked; Q1 – ‘Why?’, Q2 – ‘When?’ (at the end of next year), Q3 – No, seriously, why?, and so on.
There was no news concerning any European progress towards a regulatory framework and although this matter is in hand (within the UK) it is a slow process. It is worth getting this right and in any case VG and XCOR will focusing their efforts in America for the next 2-3 years and therefore this provides plenty time to ensure we have a suitable framework in place i.e. one that has been rationalized and not simply ‘following the FAA-AST way’ (remember – one practice is not necessarily the best practice or indeed good practice; especially as it has not been truly and fully proven).
Overall it was an informative conference and I would like to think that the 4th European Space Tourism Conference in 2015 will have the theme ‘Success through Safety’