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Space Tourism Survey Shows Cost, Access Key Selling Points

Withthe world's first female space tourist, U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari,safely back on Earth, a new survey spotlights the feelings of prospectivetravelers hungering to follow in her boot steps.

Calledthe Adventurers' Survey, the appraisal was done in August and September andconducted by Derek Webber, Director of Spaceport Associates in Bethesda, Maryland and Jane Reifert, President of Incredible Adventures, Inc. of Sarasota, Florida.

Thesurvey was done on line via the web site of Incredible Adventures. Nearly 1,000responses were obtained and analyzed.

Intaking an early look at the survey results, it "provides some much-neededcustomer perception feedback to those who are putting their first space tourismofferings together," Webber told SPACE.com. The public study uncoveredseveral surprises, he added, especially on spacecraft architectures andperceptions about spaceports.

Reifertand Webber report that there's an untapped market interest for personal spacetravel adventures. Space travel now takes its place amongst a range of otheradventure packages for consideration when funds allow, they suggest, and inthis context, spaceflight is regarded as the "ultimate" adventure experience.

Pricey seats

Sofar, orbital space tourism has been the propelled province of well-heeledmillionaires. Even for projected suborbital jaunts - up to the edge of spaceand return to Earth - the pricey price tag for a Virgin Galactic spacelinerseat slaps your purse or wallet for roughly $200,000.

Severalkey results of the space tourism survey point out:

  • The prices of current space treks into suborbital and orbital are generally too high at present, with only 7 percent registering for suborbital and 4 percent for an orbital adventure at current price levels.
  • Suborbital flights would really take off at $25,000, and orbital flights at $500,000, if such price levels were compatible with an operator's business plan. If price were not an issue, nearly two thirds of the respondents would want to go on a round-the Moon adventure.

  • A large proportion of those surveyed don't have a firm idea about their preferred design of the tourism spacecraft. But of those who stated an opinion, there was surprising agreement. A majority of adventurers wanted either a direct vertical launch or a "horizontal all the way" approach, with takeoff suspended under a mother craft coming in third.
  • Spaceports for a suborbital flight do not seem to matter. The survey indicated that 48 percent of those polled would go "anywhere" for the experience, while another 31 percent would go "anywhere provided it was in their country". It should be noted in this context that 63 percent of the respondents taking the survey were from the United States.
  • In terms of orbital tourism flights, upwards of 70 percent surveyed would be happy with two weeks or less. Regarding spacewalking, 88 percent were interested in an out-the-hatch stroll, but only 14 percent would be willing to pay a 50 percent premium for the opportunity. Only 21 percent indicated the need for a hotel/space station destination on their orbital trip, but of these, most would pay up to a 30 percent premium for the facility.

Four for four

Returningto Earth late last month, Anousheh Ansari is the fourth pay-per-view person toplunk down some $20 million to climb aboard the International Space Station.Her flight was made possible via a deal arranged between Space Adventures, aU.S.-based space tourism firm, and the Russian Federal Space Agency.

SalutingAnsari's flight, Webber called the space trek a "superbly well managedexercise", one that showcased her dedication and commitment to the new spacetourism industry. 

"It'salways good to be able to add another successful space tourism experience tothe database," Webber added. Starting with Dennis Tito's excursion in 2001,there are now four for four successes thanks to Russian space tourismoperations, he noted, along with: Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, Gregory Olsen in2005, and AnoushehAnsari in 2006.

"Ilook forward to the time when we can start including U.S. orbital space tourismflights in the database. At least the U.S. suborbital industry is gettingcloser to reality," Webber observed, pointing out that NASA's recent CommercialOrbital Transportation Services (COTS) awards -- contracting private firms tosend cargo and crew to the International Space Station -- may well stimulateorbital space tourism.

"Wemust wait to see if either of the COTS winners can introduce orbital tourism asa piggyback operation with their vehicles," Webber concluded.

Foran executive summary of The Adventurers' Survey findings, go here.

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