“It’s the new space economy”acknowledges space news specialist at the Cité de l’espace de Toulouse, Olivier Sanguy, on Friday 8 April on franceinfo, while the first completely private flight to the International Space Station (ISS) takes off today at 5:00 p.m. , Paris time.
franceinfo: Is it serious to spend so many resources to put rich tourists into orbit?
Olivier Sanguy: In any case, it is serious for the private American company that sells the service, which is also a company based in Houston, called Axiom Space, and which uses SpaceX for transportation. This is the new spatial economy. There are three entrepreneurs who also present themselves as philanthropists because they are going to leave with 25 scientific experiments, so they add a lateral ‘we do this for humanity too’. In space, there are classic experiments to be done, like medical experiments, so they will continue what has already been done. You should also know that they have been training for a year. It is not exactly tourism in the sense in which we understand it. It’s more like going to climb Everest, for example. There is a real workout to do.
These non-professional space travelers will go to the International Space Station (ISS). Is this a first for non-astronauts?
This is the great novelty on the American side, but orbital space tourism has been a reality since 2001, it was the Russians who inaugurated it with the American Dennis Tito, who had paid to go on a Soyuz, spend a week on the ISS and come back. Later, there were even more, about nine in total, who made that trip via the Russians. This is the first tourist mission -we will use this term for simplicity- on the American side, but you should know that the company Axiom Space has great ambitions as it has signed with NASA to add a private module to the International Space Station from 2024. -2025. This module is not made in the USA. It is manufactured in Europe, more precisely in Italy, in Turin, at the Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space.
NASA intends to keep the ISS only until 2030 and then hand it over to private actors. So, is the future of space tourism?
In any case, this is what is taking shape. NASA plans, after 2030, no longer to maintain a station itself, but to be a client of several private stations. And Axiom Space intends, after installing a first module, to add others until this embryonic station becomes independent. And NASA, maybe the European Space Agency and other agencies will then be clients of these private stations. You should know that the Blue Origin group, that is Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon, also has a project. Will it really take root? We will see, because already in the 80s there were projects to commercialize the space, but that stopped.