“Based on market studies, we expect to see this type of activity result in a $1 billion industry within the next 10 years,” George Nield, associate administrator for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation testified before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, according to the Reuters’ report.
“This is a new and growing industry. If you look at the last 25 years, almost all the launches were for the same basic purposes – to launch a satellite, such as a telecommunications satellite, to orbit – and that level of business for that part of the industry is continuing today. But there are several new segments that we see just on the horizon,” said Nield.
A number of companies plan to offer sub-orbital private space flights. The most notable of them is, probably, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. According to Discovery News, Virgin Galactic expects to begin flights in 2013.
According to The Huff Post, earlier this week Branson announced that “Two and a Half Men” television star Ashton Kutcher became the 500th person to sign up for a $200,000 ride aboard Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two.
NASA has hired two companies, Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp.(ORB.N), to fly cargo to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex orbiting 240 miles (386 km) above Earth, tells Reuters. The contracts with the companies are worth a combined $3.5 billion.
Four other companies — Blue Origin, Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation — have signed contracts with NASA to develop technology to transport crew members to low-earth orbit and the International Space Station.
Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX is owned and operated by entrepreneur Elon Musk. The company is preparing for a trial run of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the station on April 30.
Kirstin Brost Grantham, a spokesperson for SpaceX, said that the company has not sold any tickets yet.
“We need to be careful not to assume that the success or failure of commercial spaceflight is going to hang in the balance of a single flight,” Mike Suffredini, NASA space station program manager, told reporters.
“If they have problems along the way, it’s the kind of thing you experience in this difficult process of not only trying to launch into low-Earth orbit, but do the next-hardest thing which is to try to rendezvous safely with another spacecraft in orbit,” said Suffredini.
XCOR Aerospace, a company based in California’s Mojave Desert, is already selling seats aboard its winged Lynx suborbital space vehicle.
Mike Massee, a spokesperson for XCOR, told The Huffington Post that the company hopes to start testing late this year or in early 2013, and that commercial flights should begin by 2014. Tickets cost $95,000 per flight.
However, some lawmakers expressed concern about the safety of the commercial spaceflight industry.
“The public needs a clear understanding of the risks involved with commercial space transportation, and it will need to be convinced those risks are being effectively managed,” said Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Il.), acting ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
“AST will be at the center of establishing those expectations, as it will have a critical role in ensuring the safety of would-be space tourists, and potentially even of NASA astronauts or other spaceflight participants,” Costello said.
Suborbital spaceflights are also being marketed and sold to research organizations, educational institutes and businesses that want to conduct experiments and fly payloads in space.
Space tourism companies have time until October 2015 before the FAA institutes safety regulations for space tourists.