Watch the video below to learn about Virgin Galactic and Space Tourism (Discover Science & Engineering,

Commercial spaceflight has more recently become a reality when Russian Soyuz vehicles launching tourists to the space station (Webber, 2010). The vacationer remains in orbit 1-2 weeks and pays $20-$35 million per trip. Currently, there are a few U.S. based companies that are developing vehicles to transport passengers and cargo to space stations, however none have demonstrated the capability yet (Webber, 2010).

Virgin Galactic, a private company, has developed a vehicle that performs sub-orbital flight, attaining 100 km. These flights depart and return to the same spaceport, essentially performing a lob into space where there horizontal velocity at the peak is near zero. The proposed price for the 5 minutes of space experience ranges between $100-$200 thousand per trip (Webber, 2010).

Sub-orbital transportation between two points is an entirely different and new market. It has not been determined whether the demand for this type of flight is for passengers or cargo. Sub-orbital point-to-point flight has more in common with orbital flight or ICBM trajectories than the lob that space tourism performs (Webber, 2010). The customer and demand for this type of flight must be identified before this type of vehicle is designed and manufactured (Webber, 2010). If the launch vehicle is designed for passengers, is it business travelers or tourists and how many? If for business travel or cargo, it must be an on-demand service, otherwise the timesavings are defeated by waiting at the airport for departure. Once arriving at a spaceport the infrastructure must be in place to transport the passenger or cargo immediately onto the next form of transportation (Webber, 2010). Any delays on either end of the trip erase time saved during the flight. In the beginning of this type of operation, there will be relatively few spaceports to operate from, requiring transportation to and from spaceports to complete the trip. Any delays during connections could make transportation in current corporate aircraft faster and more economical. In determining a price for sub-orbital transportation, Webber (2010) states it will cost, at a minimum, the price of today’s space tourism lobs.

Another key issue regarding commercial space flight is the number of spaceports and locations. Eventually, a global network of spaceports must exist to operate a scheduled service. An unassigned but very necessary topic to address is who will develop the standards for the spaceport and how will flight operations including sonic booms be accepted by the populous (Webber, 2010).

This new type of sub-orbital operation will require a new vehicle then what is currently available. The vehicle used by Virgin Galactic, can only travel 200 miles horizontally. Intercontinental travel will require a hypersonic transport, capable of at least Mach 7 while passengers or cargo withstand high g-loadings (Webber, 2010). The size of the vehicle required for operations is unknown because the market has not been identified. Before commercial spaceflight becomes more of a reality, the customer must be identified. Space tourism is an initial step to commercial space travel. Passenger and cargo transport is a realistic proposal but large challenges remain to be overcome before commercial space flight becomes a reality.

Table 1

Sub-orbital Transportation SWOT Analysis

Confidence in suborbital technology after the success of SpaceShipOne
Development costs are very high
More environmentally-friendly than conventional air transportation
Initial ticket prices are projected to be very expensive and non-competitive with conventional air transport
Faster transportation method than conventional air transportation
Loss of credibility if there is a catastrophic loss
"Prestige Effect" and lure of "Space"
Lack of existing spaceport infrastructure and spacecraft that will result in real "time-savings"
Attractive and differentiated service
Possible health restrictions on passengers may constrain demand
Ability to have breakfast in Los Angeles, lunch in Paris and dinner in Tokyo - all in one day

Lack of fast trans-oceanic/continental transportation
Time-to-market may be too late along the development cycle
Legislation in favor of developing this technology is growing
A supersonic or hypersonic "Concord successor" may evolve and diminish the "time savings" achieved over conventional air transportation
Worldwide growth in high net worth individuals who are likely to be among the first commercial passengers
Lack of consensus with regard to the International Legal Framework
Worldwide growth in business-class airfares over the last decade
Conflicting airspace
Market is open and yet to be exploited
Exotic and volatile fuels and propellants may limit locations of operations
High level of investors interested in entrepreneurial venture
National security concerns may create roadblocks to international use of technologies
Note: From Adebola and 22 other authors, 2008.

The SWOT analysis in Table 1 conducted by Adebola et al. (2008) best describes the sub-orbital environment and near future. The author of this section of the wiki believes that by 2030 there will not be scheduled sub-orbital airline flights. The infrastructure to support a sub-orbital airline does not exist, the technology has not been proven and a market has not been identified. The most likely scenario is a super-sonic aircraft providing the next form of fast commercial transportation. The ticket prices will be far lower than a sub-orbital flight and attract business travel that would have previously flown on the Concorde. The infrastructure for a super-sonic aircraft is already in place and is superior to any sub-orbital flight because the trip for a super-sonic flight will be to the intended destination rather than to a few spaceports around the world.

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