The race is on to put the paying public in space. Over the next decade, off-Earth adventures will become a reality, and the associated technology will open up new possibilities not just for sub-orbital joy rides but hyper-fast long-haul travel as well.
A new report from investment bank UBS reveals that the overall space economy is expected to grow from US$244 billion in 2010 to US$805 billion by 2030. (Today it’s worth US$400 billion.) As part of this, space tourism will become a US$3 billion-a-year market as thrill-seeking amateur cosmonauts head for the stars.
UBS points out that a US spacecraft has not delivered a human into orbit in eight years. But the freeing of US government spending and the rise of the “billionaire space race” mean the outlook for the space economy, space tourism and sub-orbital long-haul travel has become much more bullish.
Space tourism opportunities and base costs
- Zero Gravity Experience
Zero G US$5,700, MiGFLUG fighter jet US$5,600
- Edge of space
World View Enterprises US$75,000, Zero2Infinity US$75,000
Virgin Galactic US$250,000, Blue Origin US$100-200,000
- Low Earth orbit and space hotels
International Space Station US$20-40 million, Orion Span US$550,000 per night, Bigelow Aerospace TBC, Axiom Space US$5.5 million per night
- Trip around the Moon
Space X US$150 million, Moon Express TBC
How will space enable us to travel around the world quicker?
According to Space X, one way would be to use rockets. In an article for Fast Company, it was reported that the company “will, in the next decade, launch rockets for international travel”. A trip from London to Shanghai, for instance, would take as little as a half an hour.
The trick would be in swapping conventional intercontinental flights cruising above the planet at 35,000ft, with craft provided from the likes of Virgin Galactic that would go sub-orbital.
A piece in Wired explains: “Despite not quite getting into orbit, sub-orbital passengers would still technically enter space. Such flights would likely climb to altitudes of up to 100 kilometres. That’s well beyond the Kármán line, the point above sea level that marks the start of space.”
In terms of round-the-world flight, UBS says that there are about 800 flight route pairs globally servicing over 150 million passengers per year, which are over ten hours in duration. These routes saw over 500,000 flights in 2018 with planes that on average had 309 seats.
If 5 per cent of these flights in the future are serviced by space at US$2,500 per trip, the revenue opportunity as of today would be more than US$20 billion per year.
However, as UBS says, to be successful, the cost of space travel would need to come down materially to the price of a business class ticket or below to make it economical for consumers. There would also have to be acceptance and a willingness of travellers to try such an alternative. Safety would be paramount and hard-won.