Ever since we put the first man on the moon, humans have been dreaming about the future of space travel. However, the difficulty of coordinating these missions in addition to the high costs meant it was only viable when funded as a government program. But, it seems as if all that is about to change. Many of the leading companies in space technology are focusing on reusable rockets and equipment to reduce costs to launch, and ultimately the cost of passenger tickets to space. And, it could be even cheaper for those staying within the Earth’s atmosphere. Just this summer, several private citizens paid to reach the “edge of space” then return to Earth. With even more suborbital flights on the horizon, space travel may soon become more accessible to private citizens.
The Cost of the First Passenger Tickets to Space
Russia pioneered space tourism sending seven passengers to space between 2001 and 2009. For $20-25 million per ticket, they sent passengers to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. Space Adventures brokered the deal for the individuals with Roscosmos and RSC Energia. However, Russia halted sales on passenger tickets since the ISS crew size grew and they no longer had extra seats to sell.
The first space tourist was Dennis Tito, an American entrepreneur and engineer who had once worked for NASA. After being turned down by NASA, Tito paid $20 million for the honor of being the first Russian passenger in space. The flight carrying Tito and fellow cosmonauts launched on April 28, 2001. The Soyuz spacecraft shuttled him to the ISS where he spent eight days in orbit.
Recent Passengers to Space
The future has finally arrived for the rest of us as well. Several private companies including Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX have successfully launched flights with private passengers. They hope these initial space expeditions will demonstrate the reliability and safety of space travel as they facilitate human expansion into space.
Space Adventures has been brokering private space flights using Russian spacecraft to the ISS since 1998. And, they have sold several more passenger tickets and spaceflight experiences. They have been an integral part in helping private citizens, including the first passenger to space, achieve orbit.
Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 in fear that one day the Earth will become uninhabitable. SpaceX is the only company that is NASA-certified to send people into orbit. It is already working with NASA, using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to shuttle its astronauts to the ISS. It has also sold passenger tickets on future Crew Dragon flights brokered through other companies. SpaceX is also working with Axiom to send more crewed flights to the space station. However, the ultimate goal is to send passengers to Mars.
British billionaire Richard Branson bought SpaceShipOne which built the first reusable spaceship. He then founded Virgin Galactic with intentions to carry up to six passengers into suborbital space. Although he intended to begin taking passengers in 2009, Virgin Galactic experienced many setbacks including a design flaw that caused a crash and the death of one of its pilots in 2014. However, on July 11, Branson and five other passengers took flight, reaching a final altitude of 85 km above the Earth.
Founder of both Amazon and Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos launched into space alongside his brother Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemon on July 20, 2021. Blue Origin achieved a momentous milestone when it made its first passenger flight to space aboard the New Shepard rocket. Bezos held a public auction for the passenger seat which sold for $28 million. The flight lasted a total of 10 minutes and reached 106 km
The Future of Space Tourism
Depending on how much you have in your budget for spaceflight, there will be options for orbital, suborbital, and lunar trips.
SpaceX and Associates
SpaceX has kept its finger in several pies as it advances its mission of human space flight. In association with Space Adventures, they are set to launch another flight to the space station this year with two private passengers on board. They signed a deal with SpaceX to use their capsule to send people into orbit. Passengers will circle the Earth several times at the same altitude as the ISS. Unfortunately, they have not publicized the cost of these trips.
Setting an ambitious schedule, SpaceX has planned several launches over the next few years. In conjunction with Axiom, it is sending four private astronauts to space in January 2022 on the Crew Dragon spacecraft. With a price tag of $55 million, each passenger will then spend 10 days on the International Space Station.
However, the most anticipated trip will be its first manned lunar expedition. Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, is the first confirmed passenger for its lunar flight to launch in 2023. He will be taking eight more people with him, to be chosen from the millions of applications people have submitted to join him.
Blue Origin has begun selling passenger tickets to “the edge of space.” Completing its maiden voyage in July, the New Shepard has two more trips planned for this year. And, more are expected in 2022. Jeff Bezos said his company has already sold tickets totaling $100 million for future flights as well. Since the first successful flight, he told the press that the demand for space travel has gone up. He hasn’t announced what the cost will be. But, you can expect that it will be significantly less than the auction bids to be the first passenger.
Virgin Galactic has already more than 600 passenger tickets to space ranging between $200,000 and $500,000 for its future flights. Unfortunately, future tickets are likely to cost more. Now, you must pay a deposit of $1,000 just to reserve a spot on the waiting list. However, you can try your luck and register here to be a passenger on one of their flights.
For those of us who will never be on the Forbes list of billionaires, Space Perspective is the most affordable option at $125,000 per ticket. Instead of the turbulent rocket launch, it provides space flight in a pressurized capsule which is propelled by a space balloon. The first launch is scheduled in 2024, followed by a six-hour tour in suborbital space.
Although space travel has become a reality, passenger tickets to space still come with a steep price.