Now boarding: Flight X1 to outer space
Space, the next frontier. Though, that doesn’t really seem to apply anymore. A growing number of businesses are ramping up their research and development activities to specifically tackle space travel, with the primary goal being scientific discovery and natural curiosity. In fact, it looks like the general population is ready to go exploring, now more than ever.
A recent study conducted at the University of British Columbia by the Outer Space Institute found that 45% of the 1,520 respondents would take a short space tourism flight if someone offered it. Could more and more people really want to take a trip to space?
The above kind of interest could point toward a potential demand for commercial space tourism. Maybe the recent push to get super-wealthy people in space from companies such as Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE), Boeing (NYSE: BA), and SpaceX are not just wild moves by extravagant billionaires and their near unlimited supply of capital. This is in sync with the general public’s interest in all possibilities outside our planet. From that perspective, launching Richard Branson successfully into outer orbit last July could be seen as a grand marketing campaign. These campaigns effectively ‘prove’ to all interested parties that if space flights are safe and secure enough to host multi-billionaires, they are too for everyday people.
The sizable investment into space technology has considerably reduced the cost per launch. As a comparison, before SpaceX came around, NASA was spending billions of dollars per launch as a baseline. In contrast, SpaceX can send rudimentary flights up to space for under $100 million. This is already over a 90% decrease. Elon Musk has mentioned that he is targeting an even lower amount which would be equivalent to about 1% of NASA’s per flight budget.
Finally, this is yet another example of what happens when you let brilliant people find solutions to problems that most people aren’t aware of. Government agencies like NASA struggle to keep up with entrepreneurial endeavors because their mandates are not driven by profit and advancement but rather by budgetary constraints and job security. As NASA has fallen behind so significantly, these private companies have answered genuine market demand.
However, the potential liability of launching people into orbit in a rocket will always have an extra layer of risk and cost associated with it. This will undoubtedly remain a challenge moving forward. There will be critics who are convinced that this technology will never amount to more than a billionaires’ sport. They may be right. However, only time will tell.
Think of it in terms of how the modern air travel industry evolved over the last century. Before commercial flights were as easy as getting on a train, air travel was a luxurious, members-only affair – and the cost of boarding a flight made it very obvious. Older generations never thought they would see their grandkids catch a flight from Rome to Barcelona for under €50 (as of this writing).
Perhaps, we will also stand in disbelief of the possibilities our grandkids will have access to in the future. With that being said, we need to remember that space travel is no walk in the park – or moon for that matter.