Suborbital Space Tours Are Becoming Big Business
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Growing demand for commercial spaceflight could turn a young market into a $1.6 billion industry within ten years, according to a new jointly-funded study.
Tourism is driving about 80 percent of the market for suborbital flights to space, with more than 900 reservations already in place, according to Carissa Bryce Christensen of the Tauri Group. The Tauri Group conducted the study — “Suborbital Reusable Vehicles: A Ten-Year Forecast of Market Demand” — to analyze emerging SRV markets and identify the growth and demand of the space tourism industry.
The cost of a short flight into the void starts at around $95,000 for a flight on the privately owned XCOR, Aerospace’s planned two-seat Lynx vehicle, to $200,000 for a ride aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger vehicle already in the testing phase.
Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of the Virgin Group, already has $70 million in deposits from 536 people, the company’s Chief Executive George Whitesides said at a related congressional hearing on Wednesday.
Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer at XCOR Aerospace, said his company has sold 150 seats in the last year and 50 more in the last six months.
“We are also seeing multiple flight purchases on our vehicles and from customers who are buying flights on our competitor’s platforms,” he said. “This bodes well for the future of our industry.”
The Tauri Group believes there could still be more than 7,500 wealthy people waiting to take part in the adventure of a lifetime. “Our analysis indicates that about 8,000 high-net-worth individuals from across the globe are sufficiently interested and have spending patterns likely to result in the purchase of a suborbital flight – one-third from the United States,” the Tauri report said.
“We estimate that about 40 per cent of the interested, high-net-worth population, or 3,600 individuals, will fly within the 10-year forecast,” it added. The estimates are based on surveys of 200 people with a net worth of at least $5 million.
The report found that demand at the going prices are “genuine, sustained, and … sufficient to support multiple providers.”
Six companies are developing SRVs, and while none have yet to launch commercially, Virgin and XCOR are closest to making the dream become reality with scheduled tests and planned flights coming by the end of 2013.
While the firms are building SRVs to be used for scientific research as well as tourism, the dominant market has so far been commercial spaceflight. While commercial human spaceflight is currently the top trend, five other markets are predicted to be active in the next decade: Basic and Applied Research, Aerospace Technology Test and Demonstration, Satellite Deployment, Education, and Media and Public Relations.
“Space flights have been very rare since its inception. They are about to become routine,” Alan Stern, chairman of the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group, told members of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
According to the Tauri Group study, there will be enough demand for suborbital flights to fill 400 to 500 seats per year. That number could triple if demand increases.
Christensen added that there are several unknowns, but demand could also increase if prices for such flights were reduced.
The $277,000 study was paid for by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees commercial space flight, and Space Florida, Florida’s spaceport authority and aerospace development organization.