Space tourism is taking off, though its most popular form might evolve and take shape on our screens rather than through fleets of spaceplanes and rockets.
That's why private firm avatarin Inc. and Japanese space agency JAXA are collaborating on the "Space Avatar Project," which will further develop an avatar technology demonstrated aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020, a JAXA press release explains.
In November last year, avatarin and JAXA successfully carried out a technology demonstration in which a publicly accessible space avatar was used to communicate with astronauts aboard the Japanese experiment module "KIBO" on the ISS. Building on that success, the Space Avatar Project now aims to further develop and expand on its technologies with a collaboration with the University of Tokyo, School of Engineering. The two companies that are involved say that the technology will enable "remote space travel, remote work assistance, and remote space-themed experiences."
Bringing space travel down to Earth
"Remote space travel" will take the form of a communication tool utilizing a screen as an avatar that is "controlled remotely from Earth" and has an "added capability to move freely within the [ISS] space facility." JAXA and avatarin say this capability will help democratize space travel — albeit in virtual form — alongside the work of commercial space tourism firms such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.
"Remote work assistance" will allow astronauts to perform duties on space stations such as controlling space arms and machines via an avatar. "The aim of this service is to increase astronaut work efficiency and facilitate work handover," JAXA explained in its statement. Lastly, "remote space-themed experiences" will utilize avatarin's proprietary robotic avatar technology for remote tours at JAXA's facilities in a bid to nurture "interest in space exploration." JAXA and avatarin soon hope to run a demonstration of their remote tour technology at the space museum located in Tanegashima Space Center, Japan's largest rocket launch complex.
Space tourism takes off
All of this comes amid the recent crewed launches showcasing technologies that would allow wealthy space tourists a quick ride into space. On July 20, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos flew above the Kármán Line aboard one of his space company Blue Origin's New Shepard rockets. He was beaten, however, by Richard Branson, who made it to space aboard a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo on July 11.
With tickets for both companies' services expected to cost more than $200,000 apiece, JAXA's and avatarin's space avatars are arguably the only technology that can truly claim to democratize space travel in the short term. In an era marked by remote work and telepresence, it is apt that, as space tourism firms start to take off, many more people will likely experience space in real-time from a screen than from inside a rocket.