Here’s how big space tourism could get

Ffirst rocket to orbit the Earth not launched by a nation-state.

First orbital rocket landing on Earth.

Landing of the first orbital rocket at sea.

First launch of astronauts from American soil since the end of the space shuttle program.

On April 8, 2022, SpaceX marked another “first” in space, sending a crew of “private astronauts” to the International Space Station (ISS) — at $55 million per head — in a mission organized by Axiom Space. In doing so, SpaceX has blazed a new trail in the space tourism industry and showed future professional space tourists Blue Origin and Galactic Virgo (NYSE: SPCE) how big this industry could really grow.

Image source: Getty Images.

Splashdown Ax-1 – and beyond

On Monday, April 25, Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission to the ISS crashed safely off the coast of Florida, successfully ending that mission — but that’s not the end for Axiom. Far from there.

Over the next two years, Axiom plans to fly three more “Ax” missions to the ISS, approximately one every six months. Then, in 2024, Axiom will launch (again with the help of SpaceX) specially designed space modules to attach to the ISS. These Axiom-owned modules can then be used to host even After space tourists on station.

In 2028, the company will take its final step: detaching Axiom’s modules from the ISS to form their own privately owned, operated space station, orbiting separately from the International Space Station.

What this means for space tourists

Axiom’s plan envisions a booming and growing market for space tourism. And yes, $55 million a head seems like a high price to pay, especially with Virgin Galactic charging less than half a million dollars for rocket rides into space. But when you consider the relative costs of the service provided – time in space – I actually think SpaceX and Axiom may offer the better deal.

Consider: Axe-1’s stay on the ISS was extended to 16 days by adverse weather conditions on Earth that delayed the astronauts’ return. But even if they had only stayed for the allotted 10 days, the $55 million cost would have been $5.5 million per day – or per 1,440 minutes in space. However, the rocket part of a Virgin Galactic (or Blue Origin) flight to space only lasts 10 minutes, or 1/144th of a day. Therefore, a full day of “space time” on Virgin Galactic rockets would cost closer to $65 million, or about 12 times After than what SpaceX and Axiom charge per “space minute”.

Leave out the added attractions of SpaceX flights also flying higher and faster, being orbital, not suborbital, and (when contracted to Axiom) including a visit to the ISS to hang out with. real astronauts. (Also leave out the potential for an additional six “free” days in space). A simple comparison of space minutes prices shows you that SpaceX and Axiom offer a better deal for space tourists.

How big could this business get?

Also, over time, I would expect SpaceX and Axiom to be able to offer even better prices as demand for space tourism grows, the market expands, and economies of scale develop. put in place.

How big could this market grow? For comparison, consider that the American airline industry started with a single solo airplane flight by Orville Wright near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903 – but grew exponentially from there.

Over the next 35 years, air traffic in the United States grew from one plane in 1903 to 6,000 in 1930 – to 450,000 passengers in 1934 – to 1.2 million in 1938.

Graph showing growth in US airline passenger numbers from 1900 to 1938.

Image source: data table prepared by the author from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

And obviously, this graph could continue to rise. But the further to the right you go, the more it would look like a long flat line followed by another line straight up – US airlines flew nearly a billion passengers in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit. As things stand, I think the point is pretty clear: once it started, the growth of air travel went parabolic, and the same could will arrive with space tourism over the next 35 years.

Space tourism wild card

Here’s Where Things Could Happen really interesting. May 19, Boeing (NYSE:BA) is to attempt an uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner space capsule. Assuming Starliner makes it to and from the ISS safely, this would open up the possibility of a crewed test flight later this year, which could result in a second human-rated spacecraft model for America.

In this scenario, it is conceivable that Boeing, like SpaceX, could also enter the space tourism business. This would give us two space tourism providers competing to save costs, each offering multi-day excursions to orbit the Earth, visiting the ISS and potentially even visiting the moon, and each offering better rates “per minute in space” that Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic can match.

My prediction: Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic need to up their game and build rockets capable of orbital speeds and multi-day flights to space — and soon. Otherwise, SpaceX and Boeing will drive them out of the space tourism business altogether.

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Rich Smith has no position in the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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