After a number of flights into space by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in the last one year and several more lined up, one thing is certain: space tourism is finally taking off. But, with prices running into hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, will it ever be affordable?
Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin sent six people to space on Thursday on its New Shepard spacecraft, including the first from Egypt and Portugal. This was Blue Origin’s sixth commercial flight, third this year alone.
The autonomous, re-usable vehicle sent its crew capsule soaring above the Karman line, the internationally recognized space boundary, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, before returning home on a parachute.
Past flights have included celebrity guests who have flown for free, including Star Trek legend William Shatner. While Blue Origin has not revealed its ticket prices, its sixth flight is evidence that space tourism is taking off. Let’s take a look how affordable it is:
Where do we stand in space tourism?
The journey to the outer regions for “fun” first started in 2001 when American businessman Dennis Tito flew to the International Space Station (ISS) after hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He spent nearly eight days in orbit as an ISS crew member.
But the tourism factor of it has finally taken off since last year when Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket and its six-seat capsule took the company and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his brother to space.
On its second flight, Star Trek actor William Shatner made it to infinity and beyond. But that was just the beginning as the company has made six flights so far, three this year.
It was in April this year that Elon Musk’s SpaceX took a chartered flight to the International Space Station with four persons on board, including a former NASA astronaut. The crew stayed docked to the ISS for 16 days and spent a total of 17 days in orbit.
In July 2021, British billionaire Richard Branson flew to outer space in his company Virgin Galactic’s flight, along with three other employees. According to reports, the company opened ticket sales to the public in February 2022 and said that as of November 2021 it had about 700 customers.
The company aims to have about three launches every month starting from 2023.
The future of space flights is brighter than the space itself as Ariane Cornell, head of commercial and international sales at Blue Origin, claimed that they have “got a book of $100 million for people who want to go to space” at the Satellite 2022 Conference held earlier this year.
Is it affordable?
Currently, the answer is a simple no. According to the BBC, the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, reportedly paid $20 million for the flight. Just like everything else, space tourism has also gotten more expensive since then.
Even though Blue Origin hasn’t disclosed per-seat prices, it did say the first New Shepard seat went for $28 million in an auction.
On SpaceX’s private flight, investors Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe paid $55 million each for the seat, according to the Washington Post.
A relatively cheaper option is available from Virgin Galactic that has set prices at $450,000 per person with an initial deposit of $150,000.
The likelihood of a person without six figures of disposable income taking a space flight is very slim. According to CNN, space flights that cost only four-figures or even low five-figures are not going to be available any time soon.
One of the biggest challenges to make space flights affordable is the difficulty of taking more than a small number of people into space at one time, to spread out the cost of the travel. Fewer the people, costlier the flight.
Bezos also suggested that spacecraft would need to carry a lot more people to make the flights widely affordable.
«You’ve got to do it the same way we did it with commercial airline travel,» he said at a press conference last year, as reported by CNN.
«We’re really almost in the barnstormer phase. These are biplanes, and they’re flying into a farmer’s field. And charging … to fly people around for a few minutes in the air, that’s what we’re doing right now. But do you know where that barnstorming phase leads? To 787’s. And that’s what we have to do.»
With inputs from agencies