Year of Execution: 2006/7
Duration: 9 months

Survey of European Privately-Funded Vehicles for Commercial Human Space Flight

Objectives of the study

To survey and evaluate the technical and economical feasibility of European initiatives by start-up companies, for privately-funded crew vehicles for commercial human space flight.

Relevance of the proposal to the GSP Studies and ESA future programmes

New commercial markets, among them space tourism, have a great potential to become major drivers in space technology development. This study aims at the assessment of the feasibility of European initiatives to address these new markets through the development of crewed space vehicles.

The development of these types of vehicles presents synergies with activities carried out in TEC, LAU and HME, in the fields of propulsion, materials, aerothermodynamics, control, guidance, pressurized cabins, ergonomics.


For the first time in history, development projects for privately-funded crewed vehicles that have a certain credibility are being put forward, mainly in the USA. This phenomenon was initially triggered by the X Prize, focused on sub-orbital crew vehicles for space tourism. Suborbital vehicles will start operations in the USA as early as 2008.

It is expected that these initiatives will stimulate new markets, such as space tourism, and have the potential to serve existing markets, such as small payloads launch market. Such markets are expected to be able to sustain the development and operations of the new vehicles and also to foster further developments that will lead to privately-funded orbital crewed vehicles. Actually, a prize for orbital crew vehicles is already in place (the American Space Prize) and the X Prize Foundation is also contemplating one (the Human Orbital Vehicle Challenge).

Despite the fact that the X Prize was an international contest, the response in the USA was a lot greater than in Europe. Currently, American companies find support for their projects and technologies in a variety of programs, such as DARPAs Falcon Program, the X Prize Cup, NASAs Centennial Challenges, the American Space Prize, and the recently announced NASAs Commercial Crew/Cargo Project. Also, a new regulation enabling commercial spaceflight is being developed in the USA. This support is enhancing the gap between the USA and Europe.

ESA expertise in the field

A first assessment of new markets has been carried out in a previous GSP study (see references). However, the specific initiatives to serve these markets have not been addressed yet, nor the associated technological implications. The European Commission is about to perform a study, managed by ESA and addressed to primes, which is fully complementary to the one proposed herein. The EC study aims at assessing suborbital worldwide activities, identifying stoppers including the regulatory framework and analyzing ways forward to achieve commercial suborbital flight. The EC study is directed at European Primes.

Brief Description

Each study shall perform the phase 0 design of a crew space vehicle which will be privately funded and aimed at commercial human flight, and demonstrate the technical and business feasibility of such design, detailing in particular:


GSP Space Tourism