Space tourism – A launch Australia can’t afford to miss

Space tourism – A launch Australia can’t afford to miss

Stephen Kuper

Space tourism is gathering pace as a number of billionaires and private companies, like Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are expected to take passengers to space by the end of the year.

Branson has made it clear he thinks Australia is an extremely attractive location for a spaceport, telling the ABC earlier this year, "We would love one day to set up an operation in Australia and to work with the Australian government in making that possible."

In February, the director of the new Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark, told delegates at UniSA’s eighth Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program that the agency is taking Branson’s interest very seriously, and is extremely positive about space tourism in general.

UniSA professor in tourism Dr Marianna Sigala said the time has come for other Australian industry leaders, from sectors including space, tourism, food, health and education, to be actively developing strategies aimed at ensuring Australia is a key global player in future space tourism.

"We can’t afford to ignore this any longer, because it has such huge potential to become a major industry delivering many multiplier economic effects – Australia can build a whole tourism ecosystem with numerous sub-economies around space tourism," Dr Sigala said. 

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Australia already has eight travel agencies partnered with Virgin Galactic, and Dr Sigala said that while prices for a ticket are currently very high, when they start to fall, as they inevitably will, it is essential Australia has already established a place in the industry.

"People will want to go to space for all sorts of reasons – adventure, spiritual wonder, even to gain fame and celebrity – and they will be willing to pay a lot of money for that experience and the services around it, so it is important Australia can provide that to them," Dr Sigala added. 

Dr Sigala also noted we shouldn’t underestimate the potential social good that could arise from regular routine access to space. She believes space tourism could provide greater opportunity and funds for scientific research, bring down the costs associated with other orbital technology such as satellites, and possibly provide new perspectives for travellers’ understanding of Earth and the universe.

Space tourism falls into the category of what is known as ‘transformational services’, which are consumed not just to satisfy basic survival needs. Transformational services enable people to rethink and re-set their value system, their priorities and way of thinking, to learn and to self-develop, to change their attitude, mindsets or their behaviour or perception about certain things.

Dr Sigala added, "This is what makes space tourism something more than just a trip for the rich – the experience will have deep meaning for many people, so I believe the space tourism industry can expect to see strong growth and demand, even after the novelty of being one of the first to experience it has passed."

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