A Good Point to Remember Regarding Space Tourism Demand Numbers

Jeff, who happens to be in a really good position to know, clears up a common misconception about the Futron Space Tourism study that I’ve seen made a lot of places (including in the comments section here):

This author, being intimately familiar with the forecast, can shed some light on that forecast. A common misconception about the study is that it forecasts the number of people who will actually fly. Instead, it forecasts the demand for space tourism based on the level of interest among the population of people with the means to pay for such flights. Realizing that demand is a separate issue (as can be seen in the delays in opening the even-larger market for suborbital space tourism.) The supply of vehicles that could serve the orbital space tourism market was dramatically affected by the Columbia accident and the concomitant policy changes. At the time the study was released the ISS was scheduled for completion by mid-decade, with an increase in the number of Soyuz flights, all of which could accommodate at least one commercial passenger. Delays in assembling the station and the planned retirement of the shuttle have all affected the number of seats available, and have kept prices high.

His next paragraphs also make the point that Space Tourism isn’t the only commercial human spaceflight market.

I’m not opposed to other markets, and in some ways have become a much bigger fan of propellants as an early RLV market, but I think the “case” against the commercial spaceflight market has always been a rather weak one.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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6 Responses to A Good Point to Remember Regarding Space Tourism Demand Numbers

  1. Pete says:

    While absence of proof is not proof of absence – unfortunately, nor is it proof of existence. Existence proof would go along way to convincing the mass market.

    Entry barriers to space need to be lowered enough (market, regulatory, investor and technology development, etc.) such that practically available resources become sufficient for a myriad of companies to make a significant number of incremental attempts on low cost space. Perhaps then we would have some existence proof as to what is and is not practically possible for humanity.

    Sub orbital should help greatly, though part of me wonders what proportion of sub orbital companies will attempt let alone survive the leap from sub orbital to orbital.

  2. Coastal Ron says:

    I liken sub-orbital and orbital tourism to barnstorming rides and round-the-world trips – they are significantly different, but you may share some of the same customers.

    The biggest hurdle to orbital tourism is getting people to LEO. One part of it is an actual transportation system that tourists can use, and right now there are no standards or rules for a company to comply with. The other part is the cost, which is partly dependent on the standards issues, and which determines the size of the Total Addressable Market (TAM).

    It looks like Bigelow Aerospace is positioning themselves to be the LEO tourist destination, and SpaceX is positioning themselves as the tourist LEO transportation provider ($20M/seat). I’m sure the two will officially team up at some point, even though Bigelow has been public about their desire for more than one transportation option. Both Bigelow and SpaceX still have some maturation that needs to happen, and my guess would be that you’ll be able to book your orbital hotel room starting in 2016, and it will only cost you $30M for a week stay.

  3. Rand Simberg says:

    I would say “passenger” and “researcher” rather than “tourist.”

  4. Matt Metcalf says:

    I think it’s been pretty conclusively demonstrated that as long as we have fantastically wealthy people, we’ll have people willing to pay to go into space. As the price comes down (and launch companies demonstrate safety records) demand will rise, at least until everyone who wants to go has gone once. The real question (from a standpoint of business and economics) is how many of those people will pay to go up more than once? As long as all that’s up there is tourism, the key to continuing success will be repeat customers.

  5. Paul says:

    @Rand
    The early passengers will be wealthy tourists. IMO, once you get to the point where commercial passenger flights are cheap enough to appeal to actual researchers, ie, people who have a pragmatic reason for flying, you know that NewSpace will stick. At that point, space-tourism is one step away from graduation-present/bucket-list territory. And after that, it can never go back.

  6. Paul,
    I think that depending on the topic, researchers can actually live with similar prices to what is necessary to get tourism going. One of the keys may be though that instead of launching a researcher per experiment, that there end up being actual researcher companies that you send your experiment up with them, and they carry it out up there. Just a thought.

    ~Jon

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