With space tourism expected to kick off next year, money transfer service PayPal has launched its Galactic programme to open a discussion on how currency should work in space.

Virgin Galactic
As Virgin Galactic aims to launch space tourism industry next year, PayPal launches space payment initiative. (Credit: Reuters)

Encouraged by Virgin, which hopes to send paying tourists into space next year, Space X - run by PayPal founder Elon Musk - and Space Hotel, which is expected to arrive this decade, PayPal believes it can provide a universal way for payments to be made away from Earth.

The PayPal Galactic initiative launches on 27 June, when the company will be joined by former astronaut Buzz Aldrin for a live broadcast from the SETI Institute and in partnership with the Space Tourism Society.

David Marcus, PayPal president, told CNN Money: "We don't have all the answers right now, but it's clear we won't be using cash when we're in space. We feel it's time now - not next year, not when [space tourism] starts to happen - to start figuring out what this looks like."

PayPal hopes to address big questions around the commercialisation of space, including:

  • What will our standard currency look like in a truly cash-free interplanetary society?
  • How will the banking systems have to adapt?
  • How will risk and fraud management systems need to evolve?
  • What regulations will we have to conform with?
  • How will our customer support need to develop?

The company said: "Already the need for a payment system off Earth exists. Astronauts inhabiting space stations today still need to pay for life's necessities - from their bills back on Earth to their entertainment, like music and ebooks, while in space."

Of course, the International Space Station already has an internet connection making online banking possible just as it is on Earth, and PayPal accepts this, but adds that "creating a secure and functional commerce system that can operate in space at scale will not be easy."

The company continues: "This is just the beginning. Specific details still need to be addressed, and we look forward to keeping you updated with our progress and to the day when we are truly able to make space a commercial reality."

To raise money for the SETI Institute and its research, PayPal is launching a crowdfunding campaign on the FundRazr website.

Sir Richard Branson hopes to take the first paying tourists into space through his Virgin Galactic service next year, which gives customers around 30 minutes in space and charges $200,000 (£130,000) per ticket.