Space tourism costs depend on which company you book your experience with and the activities you want to participate in. Although this competitive industry has slightly reduced the price of space travel, it is still exorbitantly expensive for the average person. Over the past 60 years, space travel has been experienced by approximately 600 people, most of them government astronauts. Many civilian space tourism opportunities are run as auctions, contests, or raffles.
The space tourism industry is a huge money maker, and previous predictions by Bank of America Merrill Lynch advised that it has the potential to grow to $2.7 trillion in 30 years. However, with more companies offering spaceflight packages, the price of a ticket is likely to be reduced.
Read on as we discuss some pricing examples the leading space flight providers set and the essential costs contributing to space tourism’s price.
- What Is Space Tourism?
- A Brief History of Space Tourism
- Types of Space Tourism
- Prevalent Space Tourism Companies
- Why Is Space Tourism So Expensive?
- What Is the Future of Space Flight?
- Cost Is the Barrier to Space Tourism
What Is Space Tourism?
Space tourism describes the activity of traveling to space for leisure purposes. Essentially, space tourists are paying customers, not trained cosmonauts and astronauts. Thus far, space tourism has only been successfully delivered by the Russian Space Agency. However, these activities ceased in 2010.
Since then, several private companies have offered various forms of commercial space travel; these include Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Orion Span, to name a few.
A Brief History of Space Tourism
April 2001 saw the first space tourist Dennis Tito, an American multimillionaire. He spent almost eight days aboard the International Space Station. His ticket cost $20 million, making him the first private citizen to purchase a space ticket. Over the eight years that followed, six more private citizens followed in Tito’s footsteps and became space tourists.
As space tourism became tangible in 2004, several companies entered the industry with expectations to capitalize on public curiosity, including Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. During the 2000s, space tourists were restricted to take-off aboard the Russian Soyuz aircraft, with trips only to the ISS. However, these circumstances changed when other players began to invest in the industry. As a result, today, there are a variety of destinations and companies offering space travel.
Types of Space Tourism
The main types of space tourism include orbital, suborbital, and lunar.
Orbital Space Tourism
An orbital flight is where the spacecraft is positioned on a path where it can remain in space for a minimum of one orbit. To achieve this trip around planet Earth, it must be on an open course with an altitude at perigee (altitude at closest approach) of approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles). NASA, FAA, and the U.S. Air Force define this as the “boundary of space.”
Orbital spaceflight from Earth has only been accomplished by launching vehicles that use rocket engines for momentum. Because of atmospheric pull, the lowest altitude that an object can achieve one complete cycle without propulsion is about 150 kilometers (93.2 miles).
Sub-orbital spaceflight is where a spacecraft accesses outer space, although its trajectory interconnects the atmosphere or surface of the descending body from which it took off. So it will not complete an orbital revolution or attain escape velocity and not become a false satellite. For example, a suborbital spaceflight can be considered as the path of an object propelled from Earth and reaching 100 km (62 mi) above sea level, then falling back to Earth.
A flight that does not enter space can still be referred to as suborbital, but not a sub-orbital spaceflight. Typically a rocket is used, but trial sub-orbital spaceflight has also been successful using a space gun.
Lunar tourism could be possible in the future if trips to the moon are made accessible to private spectators. In addition, some space tourism startups are preparing to offer tourism around or on the moon, possibly between 2023 and 2024.
Lunar tourist flight would fall under three categories: circumlunar trajectory, lunar landing, and lunar orbit:
- Circumlunar trajectory or lunar free return is where the spacecraft takes off from Earth, goes around the lunar hemisphere (the moon’s far side), then uses gravity to return to Earth.
- A lunar landing is when a spacecraft arrives on the moon’s surface.
- Lunar orbit refers to a spacecraft orbiting the moon.
Prevalent Space Tourism Companies
Several companies focus on developing the technology and procedures to participate in space tourism operations. In addition, several other businesses are creating the technology required to ferry people into space with accommodations.
Space tourism companies are typically secretive regarding releasing their spaceflight pricing. However, below summarizes some space experiences planned by prevalent companies with approximate pricing.
Orion Span is a Californian-based space tourism company well-known for its proposed space hotel. On March 5, 2018, the aerospace startup company announced the Aurora Space Station technology concept for a private commercial space station in low Earth orbit that could be used as an orbiting hotel and facility. It would enable independent nations and corporations cheaper access to space.
Orion Span is one of many private companies intending to provide commercial space travel soon and is hoping to deliver one of the most exciting propositions of an extended stay.
Unlike many space tourism businesses, Orion Span has offered transparent pricing and confirmed a seven-month waiting list that is likely to grow considerably. At the time of writing, you can expect to pay approximately $9.5 million per person for a trip to their space hotel, but this price may not include food or additional services. A spot on their waiting list requires an upfront deposit of $80,000.
In March 2021, their website announced that operations had been shut down and all deposits refunded.
Virgin Galactic was founded by British entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson and forms part of the Virgin Group. Headquartered in California, the company develops commercial spacecraft and has already sent one of its space planes into outer space successfully. In the near future, the enterprise intends to offer regular suborbital spaceflights to tourists and has an extensive waiting list of potential travelers.
The price listed for Virgin Galactic’s flight tickets when they were first sold was $200,000. However, the price was later increased, and the cost of a Virgin space flight presently stands at between $250,000 to $450,000.
This significant price has meant that their flight experiences are not accessible to most people, and wealthy entrepreneurs and celebrities dominate initial waiting lists. However, Branson has voiced the desire to reduce the price to approximately $40,000 within the first ten years of flight.
Business magnate and investor Elon Musk is the founder of SpaceX — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. SpaceX is an American space launch provider, spacecraft manufacturer, and satellite communications corporation headquartered in Hawthorne, California. They are another company best known for focusing on space tourism. However, they hope to go beyond Virgin Galactic’s proposals.
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002; they are government-supported and commercially funded. SpaceX strives for orbital space tourism, with lunar trips being an immediate objective and excursions to Mars being their long-term goal. Musk intends to facilitate Mars colonization and eventually reduce space travel costs.
Unlike its main rival Virgin Galactic, SpaceX has not begun selling tickets for its space tour offerings, nor has a pricing strategy or waiting list been publicized for its planned trips to the moon.
However, when Elon Musk discusses future travel to Mars, he has clearly stated his confidence in the price eventually being approximately $500,000 and potentially as low as $100,000. SpaceX’s goal is to make travel to Mars affordable enough so regular people can decide to sell up and move to Mars for permanent residency.
Blue Origin LLC is an American and privately funded aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight provider headquartered in Washington. Founded by executive chairman and founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos, they hope to make space access more reliable and economical with reusable launch vehicles.
Like Virgin Galactic, their priority is sub-orbital space travel, with a more traditional vertical rocket launch. However, with its billionaire backing and several successful test flights, it’s another promising option for customers eager to experience space in the future.
Like other space travel companies, Blue Origin is likely to initially sell most of its tickets to wealthy business owners, celebrities, and other people with vast amounts of cash to spare. Sources suggest that initial Blue Origin space flight costs will run between $200,000 and $300,000 per person.
Nonetheless, unlike Virgin Galactic and other rivals, Blue Origin does not offer an active waiting list for its space travel experiences. At the time of writing, they have not publicly announced a pricing strategy.
Why Is Space Tourism So Expensive?
Here are some main factors contributing to the present high cost of space travel.
Space travel costs are high due to the method used to launch humans into space. As long as the reliance on chemical propulsion is required, space tourism will remain expensive. The Tsiolkovsky equation says a rocket needs 10 to 25 times as much propellant as the mass lifted into orbit. This calculation is so fierce that NASA dubbed it the “Tyranny of Rocket Equation.” The more weight or mass of a space vehicle, the more fuel it requires. Therefore, the heavier the rocket becomes causes a progressive increase in the fuel cost to launch it.
Rocket designs partly get around this by using a multiple staged cast-off process during flight to decrease dead weight during ascension. However, replacing or recovering and then recycling these stages is also expensive. Furthermore, we are only in the beginning stages of the first generation of commercial passenger space travel; therefore, research and development costs are still to pay.
Famous science magazine Scientific American clarifies that rocket fuels can also be purchased as liquid, gas, or solid. SpaceX discloses that they use liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene fuel to operate the engines that power the Falcon 9. However, these fuel expenses do not equate to a substantial portion of the price of developing a rocket. Recyclable rockets will reduce costs, but they’re not 100% reusable. In addition, transporting a crew needs capsules which are costly to build. Finally, training, launching, personnel, and mission operations are expensive and factored into a space ticket’s value.
Another factor that affects the space tourism industry’s pricing is fuel cost. In March 2022, CNBC stated that SpaceX had increased the cost of its launches because of inflation and a record high in fuel prices. The price for a Falcon 9 take-off was fixed at $67 million and the Falcon mission at $97 million. In addition, the launch of small satellites for the rideshare program saw an upsurge, with rates increasing to $1.1 million for payloads of 200 kilograms (about 440 pounds) and extra fees of $5,500 per kilogram.
What Is the Future of Space Flight?
In a press briefing by SpaceX, director Benji Reed said they wanted to make life multi-planetary, which means placing millions of people in space. Right now, this may sound like a bit of a stretch. However, with the price of space flight decreasing over the past two decades, it seems possible that it may become a reality in the not-too-distant future.
Cost Is the Barrier to Space Tourism
Unless you have tens of millions of dollars stashed away, you will likely only experience space travel by the luck of a raffle draw or contest. Presently, access to space has only been and continues to be accessible to the rich and famous. The pricing mainly covers research and development costs, vehicle engineering and operation costs, fuel costs, and any add-on expenses caused by inflation.
However, innovative space tourism companies such as Virgin Galactic, Space X, and Orion Span are eagerly working on reducing the ticket price for their spaceflight experiences. Then hopefully, the sky will no longer be the limit, and the dream of reaching space will soon become more widely accessible.