LAS CRUCES – A recently released market analysis concluded there will be a healthy demand for suborbital space travel over the next decade, but officials with companies pioneering the new industry say that actual demand will be better gauged after the first successful launches.
One of the companies pioneering suborbital space tourism is British mogul Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which tentatively plans to launch its first two-stage flight to the edge of space in December 2013. Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at the state-financed Spaceport America under construction in southern Sierra County.
Virgin Galactic, so far, has received deposits of $67.5 million for the $200,000 ticket to the edge of space from 546 people from 50 countries, said Carolyn Wincer, head of the travel and tourism department for Virgin Galactic. Wincer spoke Tuesday at the eighth annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.
Those ticket-buyers, Wincer said, do not fall into a homogeneous demographic category, and not all are millionaires or even necessarily adventurers, but they can be described as “early adopters,” people willing to try a new technology and place their trust in a pioneering company.
What will broaden the market for suborbital space flight beyond those early adopters, said John Kelly, manager of NASA Dryden’s Flight Opportunities Program, is the success of early flights. Wincer agreed.
“To really change the game for us, we need a space flight,” she said.
According to the market study, produced by the Tauri Group and commissioned by the FAA and Space Florida, the dominant market for transportation services provided by suborbital reusable vehicles, or SRVs, will be human space flight, which makes up about 80 percent of SRV demand.
The market analysis found that about 8,000 individuals with net worth exceeding $5 million from across the globe have the interest and “spending patterns” likely to lead to the purchase of a ticket for a suborbital flight.
Erika Wagner, business development manager for Blue Origin, the Texas-based company looking to take tourists to the edge of space in a reusable vehicle that launches and lands vertically, said that ferrying people is the “cornerstone” of the market. But, like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin is also looking to haul research, experimental and educational payloads.
Robert Dickman , executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told an audience of about 300 that the “most important ingredient” to generating widespread public interest in bold space exploration projects is making suborbital space travel safe and routine.
“That’s what you are doing,” Dickman said to an audience that included officials of several of the companies trying to pioneer the new industry of commercial space transportation.
Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, said the agency recently obtained a state permit that will allow Virgin Galactic to shortly begin moving into the terminal and hangar facility at Spaceport America.
The Spaceport Authority has also signed a contract for the construction of a 2,000-foot extension to the facility’s 10,000-foot runway, and another contractor is finishing plans for the features aimed at wowing tourists at an on-site visitor center.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal