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Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX…: space tourism is taking off

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The global space tourism market could generate 3 billion dollars in 2030, anticipating the rise of a real industry born from decades of technological and scientific innovations. But for now, it’s just the entertainment of a few multi-billionaires.

This Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Jeff Bezos must take place at the top of a New Shepard rocket from Blue Origin, his company dedicated to space adventure. Unless there is a last-minute hazard, the founder of Amazon will take off from the Blue Origin site, near the town of Van Horn (Texas), heading for space. Accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos, octogenarian aviator Mary Wallace Funk and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student who will take the place of someone who had to pay $28 million to be part of the party, he should spend a few minutes there in a state of weightlessness above the Kármán line. Although subject to debate, this invisible boundary 100 km above sea level is recognized by the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI) to delimit the Earth’s atmosphere and space.

The capsule in which the crew will be, separated from the launcher before reaching a suborbital altitude, will then descend to Earth using retrorockets and parachutes, then land in the Texas desert. In the meantime, New Shepard should have independently found its recovery platform located a few kilometers from the launch area.

This flight will follow by just a few days that carried out at the edge of space, on July 11, 2021, by Richard Branson aboard the VSS Unity, a suborbital space plane – and not a rocket – from his company Virgin Galactic. Unlike the planned flight of Jeff Bezos, that of the British billionaire, who had started from the Spaceport America base in the New Mexico desert using the carrier plane WhiteKnightTwo, had reached an altitude of approximately 90 km, this which did not allow him to claim the status of a space traveler, if we refer to the limit defined by the FAI and the scientific community. A “detail” moreover mischievously put forward by Blue Origin two days before Richard Branson’s short journey, the first noting that “only 4% of the planet recognizes a low limit of 80 or 50 km as the beginning of space”.

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But beyond these bickering between billionaires, the two journeys, which will precede (September 2021) also the first “non-professional” orbital flight of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s astronautical company and first pillar of the movement new space, above all confirm the rise of space tourism as an industry. Alas, this trio will never be able to gargle for being a pioneer, this title returning – as many times in terms of space – to the Russians and an obscure Californian millionaire.

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A $3 billion industry in 2030

According to UBS, the space tourism market could be worth $3 billion by 2030. High-speed travel through space, which could eventually rival long-haul flights, could generate $20 billion in less than 10 years, again according to UBS. More generally, the weight of this space industry could double over the same period to reach some 800 billion dollars.

Therefore, the three main players, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX, but also companies such as Boeing with its CST-100 Starliner and Lockheed Martin with its Orion capsule, are seeking to establish their respective positions.

Virgin: regular space flights in 2022

At Virgin Galactic, around 600 tickets for commercial flights at the “exospheric” price of $250,000 had already been sold by the end of 2019, according to a company annual report. The ticket to space also includes training and a suit. In total, 80 million dollars in installments have already been paid. “Given the demand for human spaceflight experiences and the limited available capacity, however, we expect our ticket prices to increase for a period of time”, pointed out Virgin Galactic. According to analysts quoted by the washington postthe bill to become a hero or heroine of social dinners today could climb up to $500,000.

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The Virgin Group subsidiary hopes to offer regular flights from the beginning of 2022. For now, a flight operated by Virgin Galactic on a SpaceShipTwo (the VSS Unity model) is already scheduled for July 29, 2022, according to Federal Aviation. Administration (FAA), the US agency responsible for regulations and controls related to civil aviation. Eventually, the aim would be to operate 400 commercial flights per year, “at a fraction of the costs incurred by other individuals to date”continues Virgin Galactic, in reference to the first space flights for wealthy tourists.

Blue Origin: 7000 candidates to send themselves higher than the air with Jeff Bezos

Blue Origin has not yet revealed its prices. The bids launched in June to participate in the July 20 flight with Jeff Bezos aboard the New Shepard had started at 4.8 million dollars before reaching 28 million greenbacks. Sign of the enthusiasm generated by the adventure, around 7,000 people had tried to win their place. The ticket price for a future flight includes “A few days” training, according to Business Insider. Real astronauts, astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and other vyomanauts will appreciate the tribute paid to their training…

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SpaceX: 55 million dollars for a few days on the ISS

On the side of SpaceX, the first private entity to have sent humans into space, the price of the Inspiration4 ticket, the first entirely civilian orbital flight which is to take place in September 2021, has not been disclosed. In early 2021, however, we learned that a journey operated by SpaceX and Axiom Space to the International Space Station (ISS), piloted by a former NASA astronaut, was offered at $ 55 million per head, according to AP. The crew will spend eight days aboard the ISS, between 360 and 400 km above the Earth, that is to say in low orbit. The Inspiration4 trip is planned to reach an altitude of around 540 km. The four civilians who will form the crew should spend three days in orbit around the Earth. SpaceX also promises in the long term manned trips to the Moon, and even a colonization of Mars.

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Unlike Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk is currently not scheduled to take part in a SpaceX manned flight. However, according to the wall street journalhe is expected to participate in a future Virgin Galactic flight.

If we do not know all the prices of these trips to the edge or really in space, one element seems certain: orbital trips will logically cost more than suborbital trips. According to David Doughty, director of the space travel agency Rocket Breaks, the first passes could cost more than 40 million euros per person, while the second would be displayed at around 410,000 €.

A “true space-for-space economy”

These promises of manned flights for wealthy tourists are a game-changer in the space industry. Today, “there is reason to believe that we are finally reaching the first steps of a real economy space-for-space”, analyzes the Harvard Business Review. This term designates the goods and services produced for uses in space and is opposed to that of the economy. space-for-earthwhich includes goods and services originating from space for use on Earth, such as satellites for earth observation, telecommunications companies or Internet infrastructure.

In 2019, 95% of the $366 billion in revenue generated by the space industry would come from the economy space-for-earth. But if it is still booming, transport in space by companies like Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic of “passengers, tourists and eventually settlers”coupled with falling start-up costs, paves the way for new demands, and thus to “a series of goods and services space-for-space”, continues the Harvard Business Review.

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space tourism

Environment: a need for regulation

However, the development of space tourism still has to solve a problem: its impact on the environment, whether terrestrial or space.

In 2013, Richard Branson claimed that space flights for tourists would have only a minor impact on global warming, saying Virgin Galactic had managed to reduce the carbon footprint of a trip aboard its space plane “of something like two weeks of electricity supply” from New York City to “less than a round trip” by plane Singapore-London. Richard Branson, like Jeff Bezos, is also anticipating criticism by, for example, donating to organizations fighting climate change — a process some would call greenwashing. But according to the Federal Aviation Administration at the time, quoted by the wall street journala Virgin Galactic rocket plane round trip would still emit about 30t of carbon dioxide, or about 5t per passenger, and therefore some five times the carbon footprint of a Singapore-London flight.

Researchers from the Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to space research, also concluded in a 2018 report that rocket emissions can damage the ozone layer.

“Rocket engine combustion emissions affect the global atmosphere. Historically, these impacts have been viewed as minimal and have therefore escaped regulatory attention”underline the authors of the report. “Space launches are changing rapidly, however, characterized by an expected growth in launch frequency, larger rockets and the use of a wider variety of propellants. With a higher future launch rate, the global impacts of emissions from launches will come up against international imperatives dedicated to the management of the global atmosphere”they continue.

There is no doubt that the space tourism industry, which today only aims to entertain a few billionaires, will at one time or another have to consider its real (and symbolic) impact on the rest of the world’s population.

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