Space tourism has been just over the horizon for the best part of 50 years. From the moment man set foot on the moon there has been businessmen who believed that commercial space flight would eventually become a reality, although admittedly for the incredibly wealthy. But recently there has been a great deal of investment and interest in private space firms because of the advancements that have been made in technology. So it is possible that commercial spaceflight could genuinely be a reality in the near future?
In the past few years, there has been a significant uptick in VC (Venture Capital) investment in what has been dubbed the “Space Race 2.0”. For example, Matt Keezer, CEO of VC firm Momentum Ventures, pushed for investment into both Boom Supersonic (a company building a supersonic jet) and Vector Space Systems (who connect start-ups with rockets to put satellite into space) to help himself, and Momentum Ventures as whole, to get an understanding of the future of travel inside and outside the atmosphere.
The investment comes not just for ferrying passengers, but goods and satellites as well, so the opportunity for expansion and growth is there as the demand for satellites and space exploration increases year on year.
The potential to sell sponsorships makes it much easier for private firms to recoup some of the huge costs associated with spaceflight and research. Brands like Heineken and Red Bull have led the field so far in terms of sponsorships (Red Bull sponsored Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 128,000 feet), but as the market expands and space travel becomes more routine, more and more sponsors are likely to get on board and pump money into commercial space flight.
Whilst this sort of sponsorship can help to drive down costs, there are still huge financial barriers to be overcome before commercial space flight will become a viable and profitable industry.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket currently costs about $54 million for it’s use. However, the cost of fuel for each flight is roughly $200,000—0.4% of the total. The vast majority of the cost comes from building the rocket which can only make one flight. It costs around the same price to manufacture as a commercial airliner, but it can make thousands of flights. Hence, the key to overcoming those cost barriers is reusability.
SpaceX have long foreseen this problem, and are starting to make major progress on reusable rockets, and recently managed to launch a payload into orbit and land the rocket with only some damage to the emergency crush core. However, there is still a long way to go before reusable rockets can make the same number of flights as a commercial jet, or anywhere near the payload cost. There is still a way to go before commercial space flight becomes truly financially viable, but we are starting to make great strides in the right direction.
By Josh Hamilton