By 2014, a ticket for suborbital flight is likely to cost between $50,000 and $100,000 as the industry develops to offer hundreds or even thousands of flights annually, according to a panel of experts speaking July 23 at the Space Frontier Foundation’s annual conference in Sunnyvale, Calif.
The most optimistic estimates were offered by Lee Valentine, executive vice president of the Space Studies Institute in Princeton, N.J., and an investor in XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., and David Masten, chief executive of Masten Space Systems of Mojave, who said the industry would be offering between 1,000 and 100,000 flights annually.
In contrast, A.C. Charania, president of the SpaceWorks Commercial consulting firm, estimated that the market would offer “at the low end hundreds of flights per year and at the high end thousands.” While Charania lamented that no recent studies have been conducted to gauge public interest in suborbital flight, he said existing data suggest the high price of tickets might deter market growth.
“People have put down money to fly on [Virgin Galactic’s] SpaceShipTwo, but what is the long-term viability of the market?” he asked. “After those pioneers fly, is this a sustainable service? We have a question on that from the analysis we’ve done.”
All panelists agreed that the market for suborbital tourism will expand as the price per seat drops. Valentine estimated that by the summer of 2014, the cost per seat would be $50,000, while Masten put the ticket price at $75,000 and Charania suggested it would be $100,000.
Panelists also discussed prospects for future markets beyond suborbital tourism. Charania said the suborbital market may evolve to offer global, high-speed, point-to-point transportation. Douglas Maclise, manager of the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program (CRuSR) at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., said the market for research experiments is extremely promising. Maclise declined to offer an estimate of how many people would travel on suborbital flights in 2014, but said “there will be thousands of payloads.” CRuSR is a space agency initiative announced in February to offer microgravity flights for technology development, scientific research and university research projects.