There is an unspoken mantra in technological space: build it and they will come (Taylor, 2006). For years, technological companies spend billions of dollars on research and development of new products and services with no clear market. It’s a risky move but one that almost always pays off.
That, in essence, is the business principle followed by space tourism. Vienna has expressed plans on building a spaceport in Asia, Singapore and United Arab Emirate. It will tap Russia in building five space crafts to shoot man into space. Building it will cost anywhere between $115 million to $265 million to build (Malik 2008).
The numbers, obviously, are big risks and the obvious concern is whether it is worth pursuing. This paper will examine space tourism from three angles: economic, environmental and cultural. Specifically, this paper will answer the following questions:
a) What economic impact will it cause?
b) What environmental impact will it cause?
c) Will it affect the education and culture?
A qualitative method will be used to collect information about the topic. Published articles, news articles, and published statements will be the main references to analyse the economic, environmental, cultural and educational potential and impact of space tourism.
Figures on the target market and potential revenue will be gathered and analysed. The same procedure will be applied to environmental impact. Several studies have already been done that quantifies who space tourism’s economic potential will impact the environment. These numbers will be collected and interpreted.
Who Can Afford It?
The first space tourist went to space in April 2001. Dennis Tito paid $35 million for the experience of seeing Earth from the space. Since then, only seven people have gone on as a space tourist (Seedhouse, 2008):
- Mark Shuttleworth (M) - South African/British. 25th April 2002
- Gregory Olsen (M) - American. 1st October 2005
- Anousheh Ansari (F) - Iranian/American. September 18th 2005 *First Female*
- Charles Simonyi (M) - Hungarian/American. April 7th 2007 & March 26th 2009
- Richard Garriott (M) - American/British. October 12th 2008
- Guy Laliberté (M) - Canadian. October 2009
This is not the numbers of a thriving industry by any yardstick. It is a very niche market. Paying $35 million to spend two weeks in space is not exactly something everyone can afford. It highly limits the target market to the Upper Class, specifically, the upper class that can afford to throw away $35 million. The most in depth market study of the viability of space tourism was done by the consulting firm Futron and Zogby (2002). They interviewed more than 450 millionaires to determine whether those who have the money to spend would be willing to spend it on space tourism.
Interestingly enough, only 30 percent said they would cough up $1 million for a seat in space but only $7 percent would be willing to pay the current rate.
The research also considered several other factors in coming up with the final number of the target market. For example, many of those who can pay are well into their 50s which automatically disqualifies them from the opportunity because it won’t be safe for them to go through the physical difficulties of going into space.
After looking into several other factors, they determined that only 600 to 1,500 people would be willing and able to pay for a seat that is worth $5 million. That will go up to 9,000 to 23,000 if the price drops to $1 million. That looks better but certainly still not good enough.
The Economic Potential
The economic trajectory might change with The Spaceship Company (TSC). TSC, owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Scaled Composites, is building spaceports in New Mexico and California. Construction started in 2008 and is expected to start operating next year. They reported to have 400 people already in line to take the trip. They are charging $200,000 per person (Lovitt, 2011).
If that pushes through, and it looks like it will (Malik, 2008), they will expand their customer base to 14,000 to 225,000. This effectively puts their revenue projection to $1 billion per year.
There are also new partnerships that are being forged that will further solidify the business. Jeff Bezos is building another spaceport in West Texas and there are two more in Asia, Singapore and United Arab Emirates (Vega Group, 2010). These efforts will further pull down the cost $100,000. There is a trade-off. They will only reach the sub-orbit stage, just far enough to see the round Earth. It is not the same experience as the Tito had.
There is also another option. You can pay $24,000 to reach 80,000 feet which will give you a view of the curve of the Earth.
The $1 billion dollar a year doesn’t even include the other industries they plan on putting on space like space hotels. This means the economic potential is huge but the case is different on the environmental side. There is a huge environmental concern.
The current estimate is there will be 3 tonnes of carbon emissions per passenger. If the prediction of launching 1,000 flights per year comes true, there will be 18,000 tonnes of additional emissions per year if each flight takes in six passengers. That is equivalent to a day of carbon emissions of Americans. Things could become more brutal if it is an orbital trip or a trip similar to what Tito did. It has a total of 143 tonnes of carbon emission (Tito, 2003).
Any of these scenarios would alter the climate of the Earth. The Geophysical Research said the polar surface temperature will go up by one degree Celsius and will melt up to 15 percent of the sea ice. This is because the emission goes up to the stratosphere where there isn’t any rain that can clean up the air (Simic, 2010).
The Cultural and Educational Impact
The most viable option for a greater number of people is the $24,000 trip. It will not give you the same experience as Tito which includes a stay at the skylab but it will still offer a glimpse of the physical strength needed to pull off missions on space. There is the opportunity to observe the spacecraft itself and look through telescopes from space.
However, the greatest potential that space tourism can offer is to reignite the interest on space exploration. The economic problems forced the US to close its space program and all efforts to get to Mars is moving on a slow pace if not on a complete halt.
The space tourism can bring the spotlight back to the space tourism and that has a bigger and better educational and cultural impact for more people.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The billion dollar potential is a welcome possibility. It will certainly give jobs to more people and will further help stimulate the economy. The even better result is the possibility of space exploration becoming a prime interest again. The closing down of the space missions this year was huge blow for a country that raced Russia to the moon. If all the marketing leads to more young people getting more interested in space, the government projects to push the Mars mission might follow.
However, the environmental impact is too huge to ignore. There is a need for all these companies to come together and develop a technology that will not only scale down the carbon emission but also create programs for them to offset the damage they are doing.
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