The first successful flight to space occurred more than 60 years ago when the race for military supremacy between the United States and the U.S.S.R, and the need to mount satellites in space, gained momentum. Since then, more than 600 people have been to space. That number is expected to rise dramatically in the coming years, as a result of the growing interest in virtual and space tourism. Key players in the industry like Axiom Space, SpaceX, Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have already booked multiple flights that will take place in the next few years for astronauts and tourists. In fact, Virgin Galactic alone has registered over 600 customers at $225,000 per ticket for its SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight.
The Key Drivers
Below are some of the key factors driving the growth in demand in the space tourism industry.
• Advancement in Technology: New innovations and inventions are helping to address challenges and create new opportunities in this industry. With the emergence of technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), it is not only possible to visit wildlife reserves and get to the seabed, but also to tour space without leaving the comfort of your home. The implication is that those who cannot afford the real trip can have the virtual experience. It also removes risks and extends the experience to the disabled.
Furthermore, satellite communications technologies have been significantly improved, in addition to the invention of reusable rocket technologies like SpaceX’s Dragon which is capable of multiple flights. Recently, Elon Musk said the reusable components of the Falcon 9 could be used 100 times or more. Reusable rocket technologies also help to reduce the price of spaceflight.
• Increased Funding and Research: Funding and research are the livewires of invention and technological advancement. And both governments and private players are increasingly committed to these. The International Space Station (ISS) has recorded over 100 companies sending their payloads to space for research purposes. Similarly, governments are sending their astronauts to space with increasing budgets for space exploration. In 2019, government budgets constituted about 20% of the total space economy. The leading contributor was the United States, as NASA’s budget was above $22.5 billion in 2020, rising to approximately $24 billion in 2022. Meanwhile, the government of China plans to carry out more than 50 space launches in 2022 and send over 140 spacecraft to space, budgeting $11 billion.
• Commercialization and the Inquisitiveness of the Younger Generation: Gone are the days when going to space was left to astronauts or for defense and communication purposes. The commercialization of space tourism as an industry has thrown it open to all who can afford the trip. Competitive prices and successive successes of short tourist flights have roused the interest of the more inquisitive younger generations. In a 2018 survey, 45% of U.S adults indicated that they would like to visit space to experience something unique.
• Utility: Many young people believe space exploration could aid scientific discovery and technological invention. Going to space could help to improve our knowledge of climate change and monitor natural disasters. Space tourism is also likely to expose us to novel ways of doing familiar things. For example, there is a growing interest in the media and entertainment industries to produce contents in space. Tom Cruise is set to be a pioneer having declared his plan to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) alongside director, Doug Liman, to direct the first ever movie shot in space. The project is expected to be executed in partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and NASA.
More than 600 people may have travelled to space in the past 60 years since Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, first achieved the feat, the number could quadruple in a few years’ time. With growing interest, technological advancement, commercialization and increasing budgets that is likely to be achieved earlier than anticipated.