Like nuclear fusion, quantum computers and hydrogen powered cars, the prospect of everyday affordable space tourism is always predicted to be a decade away.
Commercial passenger flights to space have been on the horizon since the Apollo moon landings in the 1970s, and speculated on by sci-fi fans since the days of Herge’s Adventures of Tintin. So it’s no surprise that the latest flurry of news reports has been received with scepticism.
What’s happening and when?
This time though, it seems as if all the media excitement really could be justified. The sheer number of major corporations competing to get to space and the billions of dollars being invested means that everyday travel to space could become a reality very soon. Indeed, the first space tourists are preparing for their flights even as this article is being written.
Blue Origin seems closest to launch. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced July 20th 2021 as the launch date for sending his company’s first astronaut crew to space. What’s more, it will have a paying customer on board. Bidding for the seat has begun, and the winner will be announced on June 12th.
This is no publicity stunt either. Subject to weather delays or technological glitches, the launch will happen on schedule. Blue Origin’s New Sheppard rocket and capsule has already undergone more than a dozen successful launches, with a full dress rehearsal taking place as recently as April.
Meanwhile, rival space giants SpaceX have already got there. They have already sent two separate sets of astronauts and several cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Led by PayPal founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the only question is whether the company will prioritise tourist flights, as SpaceX is also focused on working with NASA on sending astronauts to the Moon and ultimately, Mars.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have also been busy. Spring 2021 saw the company unveil its new VSS Imagine space plane. The sleek silver vehicle joins sister plane VSS Unity on the runway. The prospect of an actual human launch has been announced several times before by the publicity hungry Branson, so it is difficult to be sure when scheduled services may start. But they will… soon.
If this trio of big guns were not sufficient reason for optimism, there are many more companies currently flying under the radar of the media spotlight. Axiom Space, Bigelow Aerospace and the Gateway Foundation are all well advanced with plans to build space stations orbiting the Earth. Indeed, Axiom have linked up with NASA to announce their own first private space flight to the ISS. This will take place in January 2022, with the crew of four already announced.
Yet there are even more options for future space tourists in sight. Balloon flights to space are in prospect with companies like Space Perspective, and several aerospace outfits like Aerion and Boom Supersonic are planning new superfast transcontinental aircraft flights. These promise astonishing flight times, like New York to London in a little over three hours, and London to Sydney in around four. Their parabolic flight paths will take them to the edge of space, offering views of the blackness above and the curvature of the Earth below.
What’s the cost?
Ok, don’t get too excited just yet. For the first few years, flights to space will remain an option for the super-rich only. The lucky bidder for Blue Origin’s spare ticket will no doubt have to fork out millions of dollars for the seat. And tickets for a Virgin Galactic flight remain likely to cost around $250,000.
However, the sheer number of competing services means that ticket prices are certain to come down. The variety of different technologies involved (rockets, planes, balloons) will also increase choice and have a downward effect on prices. Balloon flights will be much less expensive to operate than rockets.
There is a historical precedent too. The early days of trans-Atlantic air travel were for the super-rich only. Yet the 1960s saw travel options extend far beyond the celebrity ‘jet set’. Entrepreneurs like Sir Freddie Laker and his Skytrain operation drove down prices forever. Today, a trip across the Atlantic is affordable for millions, and shorter haul travel is a reality for just about everyone with ultra-low cost airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair.
Ultimately, by the 2030s the price level for a trip to space is likely to fall to about the same as that of a business class trans-Atlantic ticket today. Indeed, Boom CEO Blake Scholl is promising even more. With his company’s first supersonic flights expected in 2026, he foresees a future where passengers will soon be able to fly “anywhere in the world in four hours for 100 bucks”. But to find out if Blake is correct you’ll be able to find all the latest costs and deals at spaceflightdeals.com.