Space tourism won’t be affordable for the masses anytime soon

If you’re a space enthusiast with no six-figure disposable income to spend on travel to places few tourists have gone before, you’ll have to wait. Space flights that cost just four digits, or even five digits, won’t be available anytime soon.

Experts agree that it is impossible today to give a precise target date for when affordable spaceflight will be available to the masses, but most agree that it is decades away at best.

One of the biggest challenges is the difficulty of sending enough potential amateur astronauts into space at one time to spread the costs in order to make space travel affordable.

“The first planes carried very few people,” said Laura Forczyk, owner of space consulting firm Astralytical. “Imagine what airfares would look like if they still carried only a few.”

Virgin Galactic’s much-publicized test flight with Branson on board on July 11 carried just four passengers in addition to the two pilots. He sold around 600 tickets for future flights to the tune of $ 250,000 each.
On Tuesday, Bezos, his brother and two other passengers were the first to fly slightly higher in space aboard Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. It should soon start selling tickets at a price similar to that of Virgin Galactic.

“If you want to take the price from $ 250,000 to four digits, like an airline, you have to spread it over a lot more bodies,” said Ron Epstein, aerospace analyst at Bank of America. But getting so many people into space on one flight is extremely difficult. It is an effort that requires enormous amounts of fuel and energy to lift each pound. The technology simply does not exist today.

Bezos also suggested that spaceships should carry a lot more people to make flights largely affordable.

“You have to do the same as we did with commercial air travel,” he said at a press conference after Tuesday’s flight. “We’re really almost in the bombing phase. These are biplanes, and they fly into a farmer’s field. And charging… to make people fly for a few minutes in the air, that’s what we do in that moment. But do you know where this disembarkation phase is leading? To the 787. And that’s what we have to do. “

But there must also be a significant demand for space travel to fill the seats on these larger ships, regardless of the price.

“The only way to get that volume is to integrate it into a transportation network,” Epstein said. “Do you want to spend all your time taking a joy ride?” No. You want to get from New York to Tokyo in an hour or two. “

Two birds, one moon shot

That is why Virgin (SPCE) explores possible point-to-point spaceflight across the globe, reducing the time it takes to get from New York to Tokyo or London to Hong Kong to hours by traveling at hypersonic speeds through the vacuum of space.

This is a market that UBS estimated in 2019 at $ 20 billion per year. The bank based the figure on the more than 150 million passengers who took 10 hours or more on commercial jets in 2018. Getting just 5% of those travelers to pay $ 2,500 to travel to space would produce that $ 20 billion in annual revenue.

“While some may view the potential of using space to serve the long-haul travel market as science fiction,” UBS said in a note, “we think… point-to-point flights that take over 10 hours… is a big market to cannibalize. ”

Epstein thinks UBS’s space price estimate of $ 2,500 is far too low. Today, business travelers can spend over $ 20,000 on a long-distance, round-trip or first-class business ticket. He thinks many of them would be willing to pay a premium to turn a 20-hour trip into a trip of just a few hours.

Teching technology

But to make it a reality, it will take time and all kinds of technological advancements that are not possible today.

“The speed at which you have to go to get that many people into space is defined by physics,” said Epstein. “It’s not something that will be easy to do. I think it will happen during the lifetime of my children, if not mine. But it is not in five years.”

The first space tourist was American millionaire Dennis Tito, who paid Russia $ 20 million in 2001 to fly it to and from the International Space Station. He is the first of seven travelers to date to have paid millions to fly into space.

Although the price is much more expensive than the $ 250,000 tickets Branson is now selling, Tito remained in orbit for eight days. So by the minute it was a lot cheaper, as passengers on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will only be weightless in space for three to five minutes.

Comments are closed.