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The crew of the Blue Origin spaceflight attends a press conference at the New Shepard rocket landing pad on Wednesday. William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame, second from the left, became the oldest person to fly into space at age 90. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

How much will a ticket to space cost?

Janet Nguyen Oct 13, 2021
The crew of the Blue Origin spaceflight attends a press conference at the New Shepard rocket landing pad on Wednesday. William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame, second from the left, became the oldest person to fly into space at age 90. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

William Shatner was beamed up into space on Wednesday morning, along with three other passengers, as part of Blue Origin’s second launch into space with tourists. 

Shatner, who returned with the crew after an 11-minute flight on the New Shepard, became the oldest person to go into space at age 90. 

The highly publicized event marks an aggressive push from some companies to enter the realm of commercial space travel. Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on its first spaceflight, which took place back in July and included billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, for $28 million

Bezos said that the company has sold $100 million in tickets for future flights. Back in 2018, Reuters said that Bezos had planned to charge between $200,000 to $300,000 per ticket for a spaceflight. 

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic said it’s reopened ticket sales for flights at $450,000 a pop. The spaceflight company, whose billionaire founder Richard Branson also ventured into space in July, has ambitions to open commercial flights next year. 

“As we endeavour to bring the wonder of space to a broad global population, we are delighted to open the door to an entirely new industry and consumer experience,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier in a statement. 

The company previously sold tickets for $250,000 each in anticipation for future flights, but suspended sales in 2014 after a test flight crash.

Axiom Space, a private aerospace company that wants to build the first commercial space station, is planning to send private citizens to the International Space Station in 2022 aboard the Crew Dragon from billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Tickets sold for a whopping $55 million each. Back in 2019, NASA opened up the ISS to private flights. 

The market for space tourism 

The focus on space flight reflects a broader shift in who the tourism market now caters to. 

As the ranks of very wealthy individuals have grown, the middle-class has been priced out of the market, which now focuses more on “exotic luxury,” said Howard McCurdy, a professor of public affairs at American University.

He said, for example, experiences might now consist of taking a trip through the Drake Passage to Antarctica, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

“That’s pretty expensive,” McCurdy said. “ It’s not there for everybody, but it is there for a substantial number of people who didn’t exist 40 to 50 years ago in that income category.” 

Mark Sundahl, a professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law with expertise in space law, said he sees space tourism as a viable industry.  

“There’s been a lot of interest and a large number of deposits made by prospective spaceflight participants, as they’re known in the industry, and it’s going to be very popular,” Sundahl said. 

But while the rich will be able to afford these tickets, some don’t think space tourism will ever become a mass market opportunity. 

“Projections of price and access to space going way back have always been very optimistic. And it’s still very expensive,” said Henry R. Hertzfeld, a professor of space policy and international affairs at George Washington University. “Space is risky — it’s not as easy as it looks when everything goes right.” 

The economics of private space companies

McCurdy said he does not think companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic can make money solely flying passengers. To succeed, they’ll have to find other revenue streams. 

He pointed to the Air Mail Act of 1925, or the Kelly Act, which allowed private companies to bid for contracts to deliver the mail, which helped financially sustain their operations. 

To finance his Blue Origin operation, Bezos said in 2017 that he was selling $1 billion of Amazon stock a year. The company has also partnered with NASA to carry research and technology payloads into space. 

In 2020, NASA bega accepting proposals from scientists who wanted to fly with their experiments to space on commercial rockets from companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. It offered between $450,00 to $650,000 for their proposals, reported The Verge.  

And just last month, NASA awarded $146 million in contracts to five companies, including Blue Origin and SpaceX, to create lander design concepts for its Artemis program (which aims to return astronauts to the moon) and conduct component tests. 

“You get the mail, you get some packages, you get some people, and all of a sudden, it starts to make economic sense,” McCurdy said. “And then of course, you charge the people wildly different rates. To be first, to be with Shatner.” 

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