x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Space the final tourism frontier

Domestic interest in space tourism is the first step in the commercialisation of the region's solar exploration.

ABU DHABI // The growing domestic demand for space tourism is the first step in the commercialisation of the region's space exploration programmes, delegates to a conference in Abu Dhabi were told yesterday. Humanity must explore space not only to capitalise on huge economic opportunities, said Eric Anderson, the chief executive of Space Adventures. Our innate desire to explore means we should do it anyway. "Decades from now, we will need to bring the resources of the solar system into our economic sphere of influence," he told delegates to the Global Space Technology Forum being held in Abu Dhabi this week. "We need to colonise other planets." And Earth's history, marked by catastrophic events that have reshaped the path of life itself, makes space exploration an even more pressing necessity. "These events will happen again," Mr Anderson said, "and it is a prime reason why we as humans need to become a multi-planet species. To ensure our long-term survival, humans need to have more than one home." Mr Anderson's company, which he founded in 1998, operates in the commercial space industry. In co-operation with the Russian Space Agency, it has sent a handful of space tourists on 10-day trips to the International Space Station. One of these tourists, Anousheh Ansari, paid an undisclosed sum believed to be up to US$20 million (Dh73.4m) to explore the final frontier through Space Adventures. Ms Ansari also financed the $10m X-Prize, a competition that challenged entrepreneurs to develop a private-sector manned space craft. The technology behind the winning design, by the company Scaled Composites, forms the basis of the Virgin Galactic space tourism business. Ms Ansari will speak at the forum tomorrow. Space Adventures is branching out from space tourism, looking to become a service provider to government-led national space programmes. It will even outsource much of the work of these programmes, building mission-control centres and training academies. "Contact us today to set up your national space programme," a promotional video at the conference targeting governments urged. The commercialisation of the space exploration industry, led by companies such as Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic, is driven largely by tourism. More than 50 per cent of respondents to a recent survey said they would purchase a ticket for a commercial space flight if it was affordable. Virgin Galactic has already taken more than $40m in deposits from customers looking to secure a $200,000 seat on one of the company's early flights. The world's first charter booking for an entire Virgin Galactic ship was made earlier this year in Dubai, said Sharon Garrett, the company's head of space marketing for the Middle East. Demand for Virgin Galactic flights from UAE customers had been strong, she added. This week's conference is the first commercial space forum targeting the Middle East. It would become an annual event, said Louisa Theobald, the group exhibitions director of Streamline Marketing, the organisers of the forum. tgara@thenational.ae