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Everything you need to know about space tourism

Space tourism is gearing up to become one of the world’s most lucrative markets, offering a rare experience to only the most exclusive clientele.

In January 2024, Virgin Galactic executed its sixth commercial space flight, launching a two-man crew and four passengers aboard a Unity spacecraft from New Mexico’s Spaceport America aboard Virgin Galactic’s twin-fuselage ferry ship Eve. Sir Richard Branson’s foray into space tourism has now launched 55 passengers and crew on 11 sub-orbital flights, while Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has launched 32 to date. In February 2024, space tourism company Space Perspective unveiled its test capsule for a luxury Neptune spacecraft that could be transporting travellers to the edge of space by 2025, complete with onboard cocktails.

While such undertakings sound like something out of a science fiction film, space travel is a rapidly growing market and may be the final frontier of luxury travel as we know it. Current travel trends now reflect a different type of high-net-worth traveller. Higher value is placed upon experiences rather than goods; personalised and tailor-made itineraries take precedence; and adventure travel is experiencing an upward trajectory – a fact backed by the 2024 Virtuoso Luxe Report, which reported active/adventure trips among the top trends for high-end clientele.

a man in space
© Virgin Galactic

How much does a commercial space flight cost?

Space travel is an experience only the elite few can attain. Rumour has it that when tickets for Virgin Galatic’s commercial space flights were released to the general public in February 2022, prices ranged from US$200,000 up to US$450,000 per person. But it isn’t only the ticket price that sets space travel apart from other exclusive offerings; it’s the preparation that one must undergo to survive journeying to the fringe of Earth’s atmosphere. Orientation training, correct application of protective gear and other safety protocols are all necessary undertakings.

A growing market for space tourism

In 2019, the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) published a report hypothesising that high-speed travel via outer space would soon compete with long-distance airline flights, and – despite setbacks due to COVID – UBS’ 2021 update predicted space tourism will be a $4 billion market by 2030. According to Market.us, The Global Space Tourism Market size was projected to be USD $1,158.0 million in 2023, and by the end of 2024, it is expected to reach a valuation of USD $1,526.9 million. So great is the public interest in space travel, there was even a Space Tourism Conference held in Los Angeles in April 2023 and May 2024, the world’s first and leading event specifically for commercial civilian outer-space travel.

A completed Spaceship Neptune - Excelsior capsule by Space Perspectives
A completed Spaceship Neptune - Excelsior capsule © Space Perspectives

What is a commercial space flight?

In Addition to Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin, a slew of organisations are moving into the space travel and parabolic flight arena. Names such as Airbus Group SE, Zero Gravity Corporation, Space Adventures, Spaceflight Inc., Orion Span, XCOR Aerospace, as well as Beings Systems, ASTRAX, Vegitel, Novespace, and MiGFlug GmbH should all be on your watch list.

Perhaps most notable is that of Space Perspective, a new player in the arena that has recently revealed a test capsule for luxury commercial spaceflights. It’s the third commercial sub-orbital spacecraft successfully built and just the seventh new human spacecraft designed and manufactured in the last 50 years. Spaceship Neptune’s pressurized capsule is propelled slowly by a SpaceBalloon™, and claims to offer “the safest, most luxurious and most responsible way to experience space”.

Planned to be in operation by 2025, Space Perspective’s new capsule will be the largest human spacecraft in operation with room for eight passengers and a captain, free from G-force and zero gravity. The organisation claims passengers can sip a cocktail in the ‘Space Lounge’ while embarking upon a six-hour sub-orbital flight, with a fully stocked bar, high-speed Wi-Fi, music and a functioning restroom. Tickets are estimated to start at £99,031 (AUD$188,147) once released to the public.

launching rocket
© Unsplash/NASA

When will commercial space tourism be possible?

In a decade or two, journeys into space could become as normal as transatlantic flights. However, the demand and development of such experiences is led by North America, followed by Europe, and is currently comprised of sub-orbital flights that allow passengers to see the curvature of the earth and experience weightlessness; International Space Station visits; zero gravity atmospheric flights; and high-altitude jet fighter flights. However, there is room for growth into sub-orbital expeditions (longer periods in space) such as that proposed by Space Perspectives.

Despite such advancements, space tourism is proving to be an unpredictable frontier to conquer. Virgin Galactic this year announced one more space flight by mid-2024, but will then suspend all operations until the business develops a next-generation spacecraft, with an estimated return to market in 2026.

The advancement of space and flight technology, combined with growing public interest and private investment in the sector, has resulted in a fast-developing industry of next-generation adventure travel. As space tourism for leisure, recreation, research and business grows, it’s believed that the cost of doing so will be reduced, and eventually become available to the middle class, making way for a new era of hypersonic international travel that will rival traditional long-haul flights. While the true outcome of such evolution remains to be seen, one thing is for certain: outer space is now well within reach.

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