Billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are ready start offering trips to outer space. But only other billionaires or perhaps millionaires need apply.
If you’re a space enthusiast without six figures of disposable income to spend on a trip to go where few tourists have gone before, you’ll have to wait. Space flights that cost only four-figures, or even in the low five-figures, are not going to be available anytime soon.
Experts agree it’s impossible today to give an accurate target date for when affordable space flights will be available to the masses, but most agree they are decades away, at best.
One of the biggest challenges is the difficulty of getting enough would-be amateur astronauts into space at one time to spread out the costs to make space travel affordable. “Early planes carried very few people,” said Laura Forczyk, owner of space consulting firm Astralytical. “Imagine what air fares would be like if they still only carried a few.”
Virgin Galactic’s well-publicized test flight with Branson aboard carried just four passengers in addition to the two pilots. Bezos, his brother and two other passengers are scheduled to be on the first Blue Origin rocket to carry tourists next week.
“If you want to get to get the price from $250,000 down to four digits, like an airline, you have to spread it over far more bodies,” said Ron Epstein, an aerospace analyst with Bank of America. But getting that many people into space on one flight is extremely difficult. It’s an endeavor that requires tremendous amounts of fuel and energy to lift every pound. The technology just doesn’t exist today.
That’s why Virgin is exploring possible point-to-point space flights across the globe, cutting the time it takes to go from New York to Tokyo or London to Hong Kong down to a few hours by traveling at hypersonic speeds through the vacuum of space.