Space tourism might sound like it belongs in the future, but it’s already here. Leading aerospace companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin plan to send passengers to space within the next couple of years. Thanks to these three space-race leaders, we can expect anything from orbiting hotels around the Earth to tours of the Moon within the next decade or so.
But what exactly will space tourism look like? Keep reading to find out what the future of commercial space travel might hold.
How It All Started
Many people believe that space tourism is a brand-new concept. But it’s been around for a long time. It all started with the world’s first space tourist, Dennis Tito. The ex-Nasa engineer and astronaut wanted to explore space as a tourist and paid for his orbital space flight. Traveling on the Russian spacecraft, Soyuz TM-32, Tito spent eight days at the International Space Station. The entire trip cost him $20 million.
His self-funded journey to space caught the attention of many aspiring astronauts and ordinary people who always wanted to go to space. This could be why space tourism is currently in the hands of privately owned aerospace companies, but we’ll get to that later.
Following Dennis Tito, six other space tourists ventured to the International Space Station on board Russian Soyuz spacecraft between 2002 and 2009. Again, space Adventurers funded these space trips, with each flight estimated to cost between $20 to $35 million.
The commercial space travel industry stagnated for 10 years because the International Space Station needed more crew members. Thus, there wasn’t any room for space tourists. However, with NASA’s approval, the International Space Station started to welcome visitors again in 2021.
During this stagnant period, various private aerospace companies began showing an interest in suborbital space travel, which led to the rise of space tourism.
Does Space Tourism Exist Now?
Technically speaking, space tourism is already underway. The new-generation space race is led by three companies: Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The latter two companies are already selling tickets for the first commercial suborbital spaceflights, which are supposed to take off later this year.
Virgin Galactic’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, was the first space tourist in over ten years. He flew into space with two pilots and three other crew members in 2021, reaching an altitude of 52 miles, and was in space for approximately 90 minutes. Jeff Bezos flew into space on board the New Shepard one week after him. The rocket reached an altitude of 66 miles and was in space for 11 minutes.
Both companies aim to make space travel available to the public by offering suborbital flights. Virgin Galactic offers tickets that cost $450,000 each. The price of one seat on the New Shepard hasn’t been announced yet; however, it’s estimated to cost around $200,000 to $250,000.
Elon Musk has different plans. His ultimate goal for SpaceX is to take passengers to the Moon and Mars and colonize these celestial bodies one day. SpaceX was the first private aerospace company to send a spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit and to land on the International Space Station. SpaceX is already working with NASA to send more people aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. One ticket should cost around $35,000 per day for one passenger.
Orbital vs. Suborbital Space Tourism
As previously mentioned, space tourism will mainly revolve around suborbital and orbital space travel.
Orbital spacecraft fly at an extremely high speed, orbital velocity, with a minimum speed of 17,400 miles per hour. Doing so allows them to reach an altitude of 1.3 million feet or 400 kilometers. However, orbital space travel requires powerful rockets, which is why it’s more expensive than suborbital travel.
One of the advantages of orbital space travel is the length of the journey. As a result, space tourists who choose orbital space travel with one of SpaceX’s spacecraft will be in space for a more extended period. The exact duration isn’t specified, but it could last days or weeks.
Suborbital travel is much shorter in duration. The reason is that suborbital rockets aren’t powerful enough to be in space for such a long time. The minimal speed of a suborbital rocket ship is 3,700 miles per hour, enough to reach an altitude of 125 miles; suborbital spacecraft travel at a speed that is only 13% of an orbital space flight’s velocity.
Blue Origin’s flight on the New Shepard lasts 11 minutes, with only three minutes of zero gravity. Virgin Galactic offers slightly more extended trips, allowing passengers to be in space for an hour and a half.
The Future of Space Tourism
Space tourism is still in its developmental stages. However, the industry is worth billions, and its GDP is estimated to grow by $20 billion in the next ten years. Northern Sky Research claims there will be over 57,500 space tourists by 2031. Up till now, only about 600 people have been to space, highlighting the extent to which the commercial space travel market will grow.
With the rise of space tourism, we can expect various scientific discoveries, technological advances and innovations, and never-before-seen opportunities.
Space hotels used to feature in sci-fi movies and children’s cartoons. Would you believe us if we told you that the first luxury commercial space hotel is supposed to open for visitors in five years?
We’re talking about the Voyager Station, which is being developed by the Orbital Assembly Corporation. Of course, this space hotel won’t look like your average building, with doors, windows, and a roof. Instead, the Voyager Station will look like a rotating wheel and be located somewhere in the Earth’s orbit. However, the interior will still be luxurious, and passengers will have spectacular views of the Earth. In terms of size, the hotel will accommodate 280 guests and 112 crew members. The prices haven’t been released yet, but it’s believed the cost for one room will be $5 million.
Another space hotel developed by the Orbital Assembly Corporation will be the Pioneer Station. This hotel will also look like a rotating wheel and is set to orbit the Earth as early as 2025. However, the Pioneer Station will not have the same capacity as the Voyager Station, with enough room for only 28 guests.
Jeff Bezos is also interested in space hotels. He plans to open the Orbital Reef in partnership with Sierra Launch by the end of the 2020s.
Space Tourism Will Become Less Expensive
We already talked about how expensive space tourism is right now, with tickets costing $450,000 per person. The reason tickets are priced so high is because launching a rocket requires a lot of funding and investment.
All the space tourism trips between 2001 and 2009 cost $20 to $35 million, with the International Space Station being the destination. Sending a rocket to space requires resources, cutting-edge technology, and experienced pilots. Today, these prices have almost doubled. For example, when the Crew Dragon Endeavor, SpaceX’s and NASA’s spacecraft, flew to the International Space Station in April 2022, it cost them $55 million.
The price of sending a rocket into space will always be high. But what does this mean for passengers? As space tourism becomes mainstream and more common in the future, it’s believed that prices will go down. Right now, traveling to space as a tourist is a luxury few can afford. But in the future, space tourism won’t only be available for millionaires.
Better and Longer Experiences
Only Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are selling tickets for suborbital space trips. As mentioned, a ride with Virgin Galactic lasts about 90 minutes, while Blue Origin flights should last 11 minutes in total, with only three minutes of weightlessness. For many, paying $250,000 or $500,000 for such a short time in space is out of the question.
The good news is that space tourism will involve much longer trips to space. We’re talking about orbital space travel, which aims to take passengers to the International Space Station, the Moon, or Mars one day. Orbital space travel lasts longer. Passengers will be able to spend a few weeks in the space hotels that are being built right now.
Another issue with current space tourism spacecraft is limited space. Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin offer enough room for six passengers. However, since both spacecraft require two pilots, there will only be enough room for four people on board. Elon Musk announced that some SpaceX spacecraft would have enough room for up to 100 passengers.
A Booming Economy
The commercial space travel market is expected to enjoy exponential growth in the near future. In an industry that is already worth billions, Northern Sky Research suggests that revenues will shoot up by $20.3 billion in the next ten years.
USB, an investment banking company, predicts that the space tourism market will increase by $20 billion annually. According to the same report, experts believe that the broader space industry, which is currently worth $400 billion, will be worth $805 billion in the next decade.
There are roughly 20,000 people employed in each private space exploration agency, which is expected to double in the next couple of years. Therefore, space tourism will build up commercial activity and boost the world economy. In addition, it’s believed thousands of more people will have the opportunity to join the new-generation space race, from engineers and rocket scientists to astronomers and other experts.
SpaceX alone is currently worth $125 billion, which makes it one of the most valuable private companies in the world.
Visiting the Moon and Planets
Since Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon in 1969, only 24 people have followed in his footsteps. In fact, no one has been on the Moon since 1972, Apollo 17 being the final human-crewed mission. There haven’t been more missions to the Moon because of the prohibitive cost.
Lunar space travel is one of the things we can expect to see in the future of space tourism. There will be three types of tourist flights to the Moon – circular trajectories, lunar orbits, and lunar landings. Elon Musk is especially interested in going to the Moon. He plans to use his Starship spacecraft, which will be fully reusable and capable of taking the crew and passengers to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
What’s more, Elon Musk announced that he plans to take spaceships to Mars by 2050.
More Orbital Space Travel
A growing number of suborbital space flights will lead to an increase in orbital space flights. However, suborbital spacecraft can only take us a little over the Karman Line, a widely accepted border between the Earth’s surface and outer space. The Karman Line is roughly 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth’s mean sea level.
Developing suborbital spacecraft, like Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, will lead to technological advancements which can help improve orbital spacecraft. Orbital space travel presents even more opportunities, like trips to the International Space Station or even visiting the Moon. Most importantly, it opens new doors to outer space exploration.
Orbital spacecraft will also have enough power and room to take passengers to space hotels, like the Voyager Station, the Pioneer Station, the Orbital Reef, and more that will come in the future.
The Future of Space Tourism Is Coming
Space tourism is no longer something that might or might not happen in the future. Government agencies and privately-owned private companies are already in the process of organizing suborbital and orbital space flights. Some companies are even working on the first luxury commercial space hotels that will orbit around the Earth.
We’ll see more private spaceflights, ushering in a new era of space exploration. Even though there are still a few years until space tourism becomes more available and affordable for the wider public, some people have already bought their tickets for trips to space. Who knows? You, too, could send a postcard from space in ten years.