The space industry is continuously innovating and developing advanced technologies with the objective of enhancing space capabilities. The industry is gearing up to develop vehicles that entail a major feature, i.e., reusability. Apart from this, companies are also developing high-altitude balloons that will perform space activities.
Space transportation has garnered significant interest from several space industry players in the past few years. In the past, most space transportation has been focused on cargo supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and launch services, but currently, this focus has shifted to in-space transportation, planetary explorations, crewed missions, sub-orbital transportation, and space tourism. Several companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, have been focusing on developing platforms such as rocket-powered sub-orbital vehicles that will enable the industry to carry out sub-orbital transportation and space tourism.
Recently, Virgin Galactic planned to do a test flight on July 11, 2021. The Virgin's VSS Unity spaceplane would mark a key milestone in a race to usher in a new era of private commercial space travel. The July 11, mission was the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the company's fourth crewed spaceflight.
According to the market intelligence published by BIS Research, the global sub-orbital transportation and space tourism market is estimated to reach $2.58 billion in 2031 from $428.8 million in 2020, at a growth rate of 17.15% during the forecast period.
In the past few years, the space industry has been focusing on developing technologies that will enable space transportation. Space transportation includes sub-orbital transportation, orbital transportation, parabolic flights, and space tourism. Additionally, commercial space companies have been focusing on and developing space launch vehicles, leading to a reduction in the cost of space launch services.
Sub-Orbital transportation capabilities are expected to be utilized for several applications such as space payload/cargo delivery, earth observation and remote sensing, space tourism, and satellite deployment.
Sub-orbital transportation and space tourism use different types of flight vehicles. The three types of flight vehicles include sub-orbital reusable launch vehicles, high-altitude balloons, and parabolic aircraft with the focused efforts on enabling sub-orbital transportation and space tourism.
Sub-orbital reusable vehicles (SRVs) are rocket-powered vehicles. They can cross over the threshold of space, which is about 100 kilometers, and return, offering one to five minutes of microgravity at the peak of flight. These vehicles’ launch profiles vary between vertical takeoff and landing and horizontally launched winged vehicles.
The high-altitude balloons that are launched in the stratosphere have the capability to reach a nominal altitude of 30 km and are generally filled with hydrogen and helium. Balloons are broadly classified into two categories as per their usage, namely, research balloons and weather balloons. Research balloons are used for Earth observation, surveillance, communication, and others. Weather balloons are used for weather forecasting, disaster awareness, and other such purposes. High-altitude balloons are also being used for commercial purposes such as space tourism and astronomy.
Parabolic aircraft are modified aircraft that attain periods of variable gravity through a series of maneuvers called parabolas. These aircraft are used to demonstrate technologies by academic institutions and space agencies that require to operate in zero gravity. These aircraft also have the potential to perform point-to-point transportation in the future.