The top five countries leading the world in space travel today are the USA, Russia, China, India and the Isle of Man. The first four in this list are unsurprising; the USA and Russia led the world through their infamous space race during the cold war and China and India are two of the world’s fastest growing economies and industries. The Isle of Man seems a little out of place, or does it? In the last decade the Isle has quietly developed a reliable and beneficial name for itself in the space industry, an area worth $300bn a year.
Its success has come from, not its involvement in the international effort through organisations like NASA or the ESA, but because of its early involvement with the private sector of the space industry. Just over ten years ago the Isle of Man made its first venture into the private space race by signing an agreement with the local firm ManSat to file for select orbital positions and radio frequencies. The interest that the Manx government has shown in the space industry has resulted in the island now being the home to over 30 space companies, and with a committed government and tax advantages who can blame them?
The Industry has brought the Island £35m, which is expected to rise to over a billion in the next five years. As well as providing so much to the Manx exchequer the local space programmes have shown a speedy development. Recently the company Excalibur Almaz (EA), an Isle of Man based operation, has announced that it plans on transporting space tourists around the moon and back again by 2015 using 4 disused Russian space capsules. This is a whole year before Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic planned launch of its first commercial flight into orbit. With the private space industry booming, it’s hard to see how without serious dedication, government funded organisations are going to keep up with private ones. It is a shame in a way, as the idea of the noble pioneers of space exploration boldly taking those first giant leaps for mankind fade away into the past; they’re being replaced by the new commercialised business of space travel and tourism. But perhaps that’s too nostalgic, the decommission of the space shuttle earlier this year symbolised that that time has passed and without the incentive of the cold war I doubt the golden age of space travel will return, for a time at least. For now business will carry the space industry forward and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Government dedication to the space programme is all based on public opinion; if there’s no interest in space then it’s hard to justify spending billions of tax payers’ money on getting there. With space faring companies leading the way however, it’s all about competition, who can go further? Who can get there faster? Who can get there cheaper? With this fuelling the space Industry I think it’s looking forward to a healthy future or a prosperous one anyway, one with agencies like NASA or Roscosmos taking a backseat. That is until the Chinese are ready to launch for Mars, no doubt we’ll see a frantic NASA then.