As we, mere mortals, watch with a mix of awe and irritation a half handful of billionaires fighting for space flights supremacy, the touristic and aeronautic industries are delighted before a hugely promising market.
We had fun assisting to the mutt Bezos – Branson controversy about if the Virgin magnate had really lost his space cherry on the 11th of July – Bezos twitted to the effect that the Brit’s entry into space was not really completed – but what about us? Will these kinds of travels become one day as affordable as, let’s say, a Cancun spring break? And if it turns out to be the case, when?
Because even if this (fat) cats fight proves irritating or tiresome to some, especially when the planet is immersed in a crippling & endless pandemic and huge parts of it suffer an unprecedented (as far as records exist, anyway) heatwave, there is no question that this must be a hell of a trip… and the beginning of a new era.
So far, we know that Virgin has around 600 bookings for a space ride – at US$ 250,000 per head – and that it obtained the corresponding FAA’s (Federal Aviation Administration) commercial license last June. The company wants some cash in, at last, after a long and costly project development: 16 years, the life of 1 test pilot, and over a 1 billion US$ investment, according to the company’s 2021 SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission, the US stock market regulator) filing. And some agencies selling space tickets are already online, up and running. there are just a few, for now…
But don’t draw your wallet just now, even if you belong to the 1% club: celebrities and various space agencies have jumped the queue. That leaves you the US$ 60 million trip to the International Space Station. Sold by Space Adventures, which has organized 8 trips there between 2001 and 2009, the adventure lasts 10 days. Tickets are on sale on their website (see the links section at the end of this article). It’s a hefty sum, but you will laugh at the Karman Line controversy, the “official space frontier” that Branson didn’t cross.
Will this ticket price go up or down? The immediate forecast is that it will go up as wealthy individuals are poised to join the craze, for the sheer magnitude of the experience, and the exclusive aura it will shine onto them. But what about mid-term projections? Will the competition between Paul Allen, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos et al open this market for mass consumption? The free market gurus will nod in approval but we are more skeptic. A reduced group of big players, whether privately or publicly owned, on a single market, is seldom good news for the consumer.
A small footprint for the magnates, one giant footprint for mankind?
We mean the carbon footprint, of course. Maybe we’ll have some inside information after environmental champion DiCaprio takes the trip, as he is on Virgin’s waiting list (no pun intended). Can anybody take Bezos’ s and Branson’ s claims to the greenness of their endeavors at face value? Well, Virgin Galactic’s vehicle is propelled by solid fuel, and Blue Origin’s by hydrogen, which has zero CO2 emission when burned, but emits 9.3kg CO2 / kg when produced, according to a Forbes news piece. Grab your calculator again…
But going back to financial costs, one thing is sure: they are going down. The space industry expects the price per kg to go down to 2,000 US$ in the next couple of years. This should reflect on the final ticket price and enlarge the customer base. How long before hordes of tourists try to join the 56 miles high club in an earthlight lit space lavatory? It took the airline industry about 30 years to democratize air travel. We think space democratization might happen in a decade or so. Hopefully by then, our green energies technology will have matured, after all, it’s barely in early infancy right now. The more see the incredible beauty of our blue planet from space, the more will want to protect it. Count me in!