From Curb to Launch

Explore the pre-launch, ground experience for space tourism in 2040

Space travel is now no longer the exclusive domain of nation states. With more and more private companies companies gaining the capabilities to reach orbit, space travel for leisure will likely follow. Everyday civilians going to space for leisure purpose will have different needs compared to astronauts going to space for professional reasons.

This thesis created a method to create a user-centered service that allow commercial companies to provide a way for private individuals going to space for tourism. This service not only prepares the customers for the actual spaceflight, but also provide a well-rounded ground experience that aims to provide an experience that will last a lifetime, that will be shared with others, and in the process perhaps inspire a new generation of human progress and collaboration

Aurora spacecraft created by Tyler Macdonald (website), UID Transportation Design 2018, . My MFA thesis focused on the ground service, Tyler’s MFA thesis focused on the spacecraft and in-flight experience.


Identify the customers

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Site Visit

The sites I visited related to both traditional space travel and future commercial space flight, to learn more about space travel in general


“Biggest benefit of the space program was that JFK motivated a generation of kids to study math and science.”


“These commercial space companies are profit-driven. I don’t know if I feel comfortable knowing NASA is counting on them to launch future astronauts.”


“High net-worth individuals have high expectations. You need to create a moment for these customers. What can you do to make this memorable?”


I was fortunate enough to speak with some former astronauts. They provided insights into the inspirational aspect of space travel and the long term benefit to humanity. On the other hand they also expressed reservations on the potential safety concerns with the profit-driven commercialization of space travel. I also had a chance to interview the VP of Bombardier Business Aircraft, a private jet manufactures with high end clientele for insights on their target customers. The two biggest themes I took away from the interviews are TRUST and PREMIUM


Customer workshop

I identified some affluent individuals working in Silicon Valley who may be potential customers of the proposed space tourism service. They shared traits such as technologically sally, adventurous, looking for new experiences, and excepts high end treatment. By engaging them in workshops to explore what the idea of TRUST and PREMIUM means to them, I was able to synthesize the results for the nest step


From the word cloud, I distilled five concrete design principle that will help me as I build and refind the service:

Based on the findings of the workshop, I created word clouds for both TRUST and PREMIUM

Build Relationships (relationships)

From the initial impression to end of the journey, we consistently deliver positive interactions that develop connection and trust for our customer.

Build on our Foundation (association)

SAS has a solid reputation as a trustworthy company with good design sensibilities. The design should take advantage of those values our customers are familiar with.

Deliver Constant Quality (labour)

Every part of the operation should be high quality and consistent for a premium experience.

Every Detail Matters (presentation and craftsmanship)

The design should showcase craftsmanship and the work put into it by the team. It lets the customers know they are getting the best by showing them our attention to detail.

Show them we Care Personally (personalized)

We should approach every customer’s unique preferences and desires and we are creating an one-of-a-kind, exclusive experience for them that is the signature of a premium service.




Initial draft

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From all the research, I was able to build an the skeleton of the Aurora by SAS service. A series of concrete steps, each with a separate locations, with a series of activities.

Roleplay workshop

I organized a roleplay workshop to act out the different steps of the process. Each step was acted out, followed by interviews with the participants to gather feedbacks regarding the overall step and the individual activities.

LEGO prototypes workshop

Based on the feedback from the roleplay workshop, the steps and activities were revised. This time, I decided to use LEGO to build out a scene for each step and described the activities for participants to elicit feedback.


Examples of the steps I mocked up to illustrate how each step may look like.


Running through the participants though each step, and collecting feedback.

Service Blueprint

After synthesize all the previous feedback, I arrived at a final version of the the service, which I’ve illustrated in the service blueprint below to map out whole service.

FLY THE AURORA overall service blueprint


Deep Dive


At this point of the project I now have a high level overview of the service, but it is a very skeletal form. Next is to really flesh out the service with details.

Website Testing

One of the artifact is a mock website for the service that I built. The website functions as the gateway to the service. I build a website with the design principles in mind. I observed a series of users interacting with the website and to see if the design principles shown through and gathered feedback.

Step Prototype

I picked a step in the service, in this case Boarding, to test. I fleshed out activities and the details that incorporate my design principles. Without access to a large hanger space, and a mock spacecraft, I am unable to re-create a roleplay workshop. Instead, I started out using the Scenes toolkit from SAP to build the story and planned a record a video walk through.

However, I realized by utilizing some off the shelf gear, I can instead record a 360 surround video, and make the video walk through a more immersive experience. Instead of having users watching it through a screen, I can have them do a “walk through” of the step and experience all the activities.

Below is an example of my innovation for my thesis: Using a 360 camera + VR headset for an effective and immersive user testing.

This method of testing was not only very effective in getting my idea across in an immersive way, but also very effective in getting feedback from participants. As a bonus, the participants found this testing method to be novel and enjoyable and word spread and I had many volunteers for testing, increasing my sample size.

Based on the feedback of the lo-fi step walk through, I incorporated the changes and refined the Boarding process. At this point I decided that I can dial up the fidelity level of my immersive experience. Montreal-based artifact5 was able to help me build this refined experience in a higher fidelity VR environment.

The VR environment was very effective in testing and confirming that my design principles really shined through in my design of the boading service

Here is the finalized version of the Boarding step of the final Aurora by SAS service

Here is the finalized version of the Boarding step of the final Aurora by SAS service


Next Step


The Boarding step above is just one part of the Aurora by SAS service. It illustrates how I achieved to results using various methodologies to arrive at this stage. Now, to finalize the complete service, using the Boarding example as a proof of concept and time and resources permitting, I am now able to.continue to replicate the success on all the other steps of the process.