Although the news about the global pandemic raging across the world has managed to push pretty much everything else out of the spotlight, the world still stopped worrying about the virus for a short time at the end of May to witness humans return to space, for the first time, from American soil. The mission was branded “Launch America” and mostly promoted under NASA’s logo that perhaps made many people focus more on its American nature than what it really means.
Yes, SpaceX’s successful Crew Demo-2 launch was a great leap forward for American space exploration and science. But it meant way more for SpaceX, the private company run by South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk.
An entire generation of kids was dreaming of becoming astronauts when they grow up. Reaching space has remained a dream for their vast majority, though, due to the conditions one had to meet to be able to board a spacecraft. These kids are grown-ups now but many of them are still excited by leaving Earth behind, even if only for a short time. And with the advent of private space flight, their dream has inched one step closer to becoming a reality.
There are several private companies working on their own launch systems as we speak. Commercial space transportation is already a very profitable business – think of all the satellites already orbiting our planet, and the many more yet to be launched – and if all goes well, it can become an even bigger enterprise in the near future.
Satellites and freight are just one side of the story. Air transport and space tourism are another.
When presenting the next spacecraft SpaceX is planning to build – called the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) at the time – Elon Musk shared his idea about it being used to shorten long-haul flights from half a day to a couple of hours at most. His idea was to launch a BFR from, say, New York, and land it in Shanghai in just 40 minutes. Of course, the BFR wouldn’t actually go into space – it’s a suborbital flight at most. Still, flying from Harare to Auckland, New Zealand, in less time than crossing through Harare by car is an attractive idea, to say the least.
Lightning-fast suborbital flights are, in turn, just one of the many potential benefits of commercial human space flight. Even if we don’t consider the potential benefits of colonizing new worlds, the profits to be made from space tourism are considerable. And space flight startups are not the only ones who plan to profit from them.
There are already a few ambitious plans to build “space hotels” – and the one put forward by the Gateway Foundation is perhaps the most ambitious one of them all. The company plans to build a Von Braun class space station that could be home to hundreds of researchers and tourists at the same time, equipped with everything from a hotel to research labs and entertainment facilities. And someone will have to ensure the transport of visitors and supplies to the orbiting hotel, right?