Space Tourism Then and Now


Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), the third all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, lifts off at 4:49 p.m. EST on Thursday, Jan. 18, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Photo Credit: NASA

The launch of Yuri Gagarin in 1961 ushered in human spaceflight thus bringing science-fiction to reality. Perhaps almost as groundbreaking was the launch of Dennis Tito in 2001 on a Soyuz Spacecraft being the first space tourist in history. Space tourism is a growing market with a few players servicing people’s desire to explore the cosmos.


There are currently two companies that provide private spaceflights to paying customers: Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Both companies perform suborbital flights but in different ways.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard system (booster and capsule) is more of a traditional rocket that flies above the Kármán Line, the edge of Space at 100 km, providing weightlessness for the passengers and returns to Earth.

Virgin Galactic; however, fields SpaceShipTwo (SpaceshipThree is in development) which is a spaceplane much like the retired Space Shuttle. This craft has not gone as high as New Shepard but the passengers still feel weightlessness. The craft lands like an airplane.

Both companies have had technical issues and delays in developing their vehicles and carrying out missions. With that being said, SpaceShip will launch soon and New Shepard will launch in December 2023. Both companies appear to be back on track.

Customers flying on these missions have been very pleased with the results but what if you just need more?

Enter Axiom Space and Orbital Flights

Axiom Space, using SpaceX infrastructure and vehicles, will get a paying customer to orbit. SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission was a private spaceflight as well but Axiom has big plans for Space tourism. So far these flights have either orbited the Earth in SpaceX Dragon capsules and returned or have also docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

The third Axiom mission, Ax-3, launched on January 18, 2024. Although paying customers, these passengers are all involved somewhat with Aerospace with two being pilots and two astronauts. In the future, Axiom wants to build its own station. Using the ISS as a base, Axiom modules will dock with the older station and when the ISS is retired (likely at the end of the decade) the Axiom station will break off and become its own entity.

Space tourism is here to stay. There is no shortage of people with the desire and the funds to travel to space. Suborbital flights will give you the thrill and taste of Space, there are orbital options for those who need that extra experience.

About Carter Palmer

Carter Palmer has long held a keen interest in military matters and aviation. As a FI's space systems analyst he is responsible for updating the reports and analyses within the Space Systems Forecast – Launch Vehicles & Manned Platforms and Space Systems Forecast – Satellites & Spacecraft products.

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