Feasibility Study and Future Projections of Suborbital Space Tourism at the Example of Virgin Galactic

Bachelor Thesis, 2008

90 Pages, Grade: 1.3


Table of Contents


List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Abbreviations


1. Introduction

2. General Aspects on Space Tourism
2.1 History of Space Exploration and Space Tourism
2.2 Motives for going to space
2.3 Benefits of Space Tourism
2.4 Obstacles to Space Tourism
2.5 Stages of Space Tourism

3. Feasibility Study and Future Projections of Suborbital Space Tourism
3.1 The Virgin Galactic Approach
3.1.1 The Product
3.1.2 The Place
3.1.3 The Communication Policy
3.1.4 SWOT Analysis of Virgin Galactic
3.2 Analysis of Virgin Galactic’s Direct Competitors in Suborbital Space Tourism .
3.2.1 Space Adventures
3.2.2 Benson Space Company
3.2.3 Space Access
3.2.4 Incredible Adventures
3.2.5 Rocketplane Limited
3.2.6 Starchaser Industries
3.2.7 Blue Origin
3.2.8 Summary
3.3 Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Their Manufacturers
3.3.1 SpaceShipTwo (The Spaceship Company)
3.3.2 Dream Chaser (SpaceDev)
3.3.3 New Shepard (Blue Origin)
3.3.4 Skyhopper (Space Access)
3.3.5 Newson’s Spaceship (EADS Astrium)
3.3.6 Lynx (XCOR Aerospace)
3.3.7 Ascender (Bristol Spaceplanes)
3.3.8 Thunderstar (Starchaser Industries)
3.3.9 Rocketplane XP (Rocketplane Limited)
3.3.10 Summary
3.4 Regulatory Framework and Non-Profit Space Tourism Organisations
3.4.1 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
3.4.2 X Prize Foundation
3.4.3 Space Tourism Society
3.4.4 Summary
3.5 Suborbital Space Tourism Demand

4. Conclusion

Bibliography Appendix



This work would not have been possible without the contribution of a great number of people that made themselves available for interviews and thus helped me with my investigations on suborbital space tourism. In particular, I am deeply grateful to the following persons:

Dr. Robert A. Goehlich

Founder of Space Tourism Course, Keio University, Yokohama, Japan

Will Whitehorn

President, Virgin Galactic, London, UK

John S. Spencer

Founder and President, Space Tourism Society, Los Angeles, USA

Anthony Haynes

Propulsion Team Leader, Starchaser Industries, Hyde, UK

Dr. Olle Norberg

Chairman, Spaceport Sweden, Kiruna, Sweden

Jane Reifert

President, Incredible Adventures, Sarasota, USA

Christoph Berner

Head of Marketing & PR, Designreisen, Munich, Germany

Douglas Graham

Public Affairs, XCOR Aerospace, Mojave, USA

Tom Shelley

Vice President of Marketing, Space Adventures, Vienna, USA

Dr. Mathias Spude

Company Spokesman, EADS Astrium Germany, Bremen, Germany

List of Figures

Figure 1: Pan Am Ticket (Sample)

Figure 2: Most Interesting Aspects of a Flight

Figure 3: Steps of a Parabolic Flight

Figure 4: Suborbital Flight

Figure 5: Virgin Galactic Logo

Figure 6: WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo

Figure 7: Virgin Galactic's Suborbital Flight

Figure 8: Virgin Galactic’s Partners

Figure 9: Design Spaceport America

Figure 10: Proposed Singapore Spaceport

Figure 11: Passenger Forecast for Suborbital Flights

Figure 12: Passenger and Revenue Forecast for Suborbital Flights

Figure 13: Willingness to Pay for Suborbital Flights

Figure 14: Worldwide HNWI Population 2004 - 2006

Figure 15: Worldwide HNWI Wealth Distribution 2004 - 2006

Figure 16: Worldwide HNWI Population Growth 2005 - 2006

List of Tables

Table 1: Stages of Space Tourism

Table 2: SWOT Analysis of Virgin Galactic

Table 3: Virgin Galactic’s Competitive Environment

Table 4: Specifications of Reusable Launch Vehicles

Table 5: Ansari X Prize Teams

List of Abbreviations

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Suborbital Space Flight: “Suborbital space flight for tourism can be defined where customers pay an initially high price to go on a quick ballistic flight in a spacecraft into space, get a few minutes of weightlessness and then return to Earth, without reaching orbit.” (Goehlich, 2002, pp. 15-16)

Space Tourism: “Space tourism can be defined to include not only the vehicles that take public passengers into space, but also from the perspective of the "destination" paradigm. As such, the industry can be envisioned to include not only Earth based attractions that simulate the space experience such as space theme parks, space training camps, virtual reality facilities, multi-media interactive games and telerobotic Moon rovers controlled from Earth, but also parabolic flights, vertical suborbital flights, orbital flights lasting up to 3 days, or week-long stays at a floating space hotel, including participatory educational, research and entertainment experiences as well as space sports competitions (i.e. space Olympics). (Goehlich, 2007, p. 215)

Space Tourism: “Ordinary members of the public buying tickets to travel to space and back.” (Space Future, 2007)

Apogee: “The apogee is the point at which a body is at its furthest orbit from the Earth. The word derives from the Greek prefix apo meaning away and the word gaia meaning Earth. When a body is at apogee, it is also at its minimal orbital velocity.” (McGuigan, 2008)

The Karman Line: Named after Hungarian Theodore von Karman, an engineer and physicist dealing with aeronautics, the term Karman Line is generally used to describe the boundary between Earth and Outer Space, which is defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, an astronautic records commission, to be at an altitude of 100 kilometres. (FAI, 2004)

Low-Earth-Orbit: “The region of space below the altitude of 2000 km.” (NASA, 1995)

1. Introduction

Since its very beginning mankind has been enormously impelled by visions. Striving for records and yearning for adventures is as old as humanity itself. Consequently, the Mount Everest was scaled and the depths of the oceans were explored. After thousands of years it seems that all adventures on Mother Earth have been done. We have always been fascinated by the unknown and the mysterious things, and which territory is more unknown than the Outer Space? Almost everyone has watched movies dealing with this topic, but scarcely anybody has ever set foot on non-Earth area. However, what still seems unimaginable might soon become daily routine. Trips to London, Paris or New York? Why not travel into the endlessness of space one time? Private ventures are currently planning to capitalise on this market niche: spaceports are built, special vehicles are under development, and tickets for suborbital space flights can already be purchased. The start of the Space Race has been heralded. In doing so, safety is the supplier’s top priority. Hitherto, the offer is narrowed down to the wealthy members of our society - a flight costs some hundred thousand dollars. However, the companies expect prices to go down significantly if demand is steadily increasing, which will be the cornerstone for mass space tourism. It might be unbelievable at present, but the first steps towards fulfilling this vision have been taken.

This work deals with the topic space tourism, more specifically the author introduces a Feasibility Study and Future Projections of Suborbital Space Tourism, which is demonstrated at the example of Virgin Galactic. In doing so, the core objective of the present work is to analyse and evaluate whether the emerging suborbital space tourism has the potential to turn into a viable and revenue-generating industry in the near future. In order to answer this research question, there is a plethora of crucial aspects that will be investigated. First of all, the author comes up with general aspects on space tourism, including an overview about the history of space exploration and tourism, followed by the motives for going to space, the benefits as well as the obstacles of space tourism, and finally its different stages. This information builds the cornerstone for the further analysis. Afterwards, there will be the actual feasibility study and the future projections of suborbital space tourism. At this point, it should be noticed that the feasibility study will be the largest part of the present work since it delivers facts, whereas the future projections are rather based on these facts. A feasibility study in general is a study with the goal of determining a project’s viability. According to these results, a decision can be made whether to proceed with the project or whether to cease it. The feasibility study in the present work consists of the Virgin Galactic approach, an analysis of the direct competitors in suborbital space tourism, an analysis of suborbital reusable launch vehicles and their manufacturers, an overview about the regulatory framework as well as about non-profit space tourism organisations, and finally it consists of the suborbital space tourism demand. At the end there will be a conclusion, which contains the most vital results of the feasibility study and, more importantly, the answer to the research question. In general, the author provides an overview about the content as well as an indication of the used literature in the beginning of each chapter. On the whole, sources of information are the Internet and publications in terms of books or reports, which will provide the basics for this work. Additionally, the author comes up with results from personal interviews conducted with experts that are either employed in companies related to space tourism or that are investigating on this topic. Normally, such an interview consists of five to seven target-oriented questions. The author conducted the interviews either via telephone or via email contact. This work will be finalised by providing the bibliography, the appendix, as well as the affidavit.

2. General Aspects on Space Tourism

In this chapter, the author provides general aspects on space tourism, which build the basis for the further research. In particular, focal points will be a history of space exploration and space tourism, motives for going to space, benefits of space tourism, obstacles to space tourism, and stages of space tourism.

2.1 History of Space Exploration and Space Tourism

The author is now giving a conspectus of the most important events in the history of space exploration and space tourism. The basis therefore is a research study called Space Planes and Space Tourism: The Industry and the Regulation of its Safety. (Pelton, 2007) Additionally, information from other sources is taken and cited directly. On October 4, 1957, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) successfully launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, and thus heralded the dawn of the space age. Arising from this milestone and as a kind of reaction to the Soviet space programme, former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which officially opened its business on October 1, 1958. The U.S. wish of also launching a satellite became true a bit earlier, concretely on January 31, 1958, when Explorer I successfully took off. (Garber, 2007) The USSR - U.S. competition found its apex some years later, and again the USSR was ahead by a nose: On April 12, 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man who orbited the Earth. One year later, on February 20, 1962, John Glenn was the first U.S. astronaut successfully orbiting the Earth.

An important event took place on August 22, 1963, when the North American X-15, a rocket-powered aircraft flown by Joseph A. Walker, set the world altitude record at 67 miles (approximately 108 kilometres). This record remained unbroken until the flight of SpaceShipOne on October 4, 2004, which reached an altitude of 69,6 miles (approximately 112 kilometres). Its pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie thus made SpaceShipOne become the second private manned spacecraft going to space. (Scaled Composites, 2008)

In 1968, there was the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, A Space Odyssey, a movie dealing with the topic space tourism. It includes scenes of a manned space station and the way life is in Outer Space.

1969 was one of the most important years concerning space exploration when American Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon. With his famous quote “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, Armstrong entered the lunar surface on July 21. Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin were aboard the legendary Apollo 11 as well. (Stern.de, 2005)

Also in 1969, following the success of the Apollo mission, Pan Am Airlines started to take ticket reservations for a shuttle to the Moon. These tickets were amazingly popular and about 90.000 reservations were accepted. The only problem was that there was no trip itself. The tickets were valid for seats on the first flight to become available, but no such flights have turned up yet. (Lindsköld, 1999)

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Figure 1: Pan Am Ticket (Sample)

A tragic event took place on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after taking off. Seven astronauts were killed in this accident. Ten years later, on May 18, 1996, the creation of the so-called X Prize competition was announced. (X PRIZE Foundation, 2008) The X Prize is a multi-million dollar award given to the first team to reach a specific objective. The X Prize in terms of suborbital space tourism will be explained in the course of this work.

On April 28, 2001, American Dennis Tito became the first paying space traveller, launching from Baikonur aboard a Russian Soyuz bound for the International Space Station (ISS). His first words when he entered the ISS were “I love space.” (van Pelt, 2005, p. 7) Tito returned safely after 128 orbits in eight days. The second self-funded space traveller was African Mark Shuttleworth, who gained worldwide fame on April 25, 2002, as a space flight participant aboard a Russian Soyuz mission, paying approximately $20 million. (Gleamd, 2007)

A further tragic event happened on February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded while re-entering the atmosphere. Columbia was returning from a sixteen-day flight for scientific purposes. Again, seven astronauts were killed.

As already mentioned above, on October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize with its second qualifying flight. (Spacefuture, 2007)

In the following year, on October 1, 2005, American Dr. Greg Olsen became the third person to visit space as a fare-paying passenger. The fourth space traveller, this time a female one, was Iranian-American Anousheh Ansari who visited the ISS on September 19, 2006. Finally, on April 7, 2007, Hungarian Dr. Charles Simonyi became the fifth space traveller to pay $20 million for a trip to orbit. (Spacefuture, 2007)

2.2 Motives for going to space

This part aims at illuminating the reasons why humans want to go to space at all. What is so fascinating of making a trip to LEO or beyond?

In his book “Adventures in Earth Orbit and Beyond” Michel van Pelt suggests that “space has much to offer the adventurous traveller: a thrilling ride into orbit on the thrust of roaring rocket engines, a magnificent view of Earth, and the unique feeling of freedom while floating in weightlessness. For the near future you can add the glory of being a pioneer to the attraction - the excitement of going where no tourist has gone before. [...] Astronauts say it is impossible to describe the grandeur of the Earth as they have seen it. From orbit, you see whole mountain ranges, volcanoes, entire glaciers, storms, ocean currents - endless amounts of detail on a very intriguing planet. Seeing the entire Earth, otherwise impossible to achieve in a lifetime, can now be done in a few days. [...] The presence of humanity, so obvious in all the heavily populated areas on the ground, seems hardly noticeable. Our cities and large structures, like dams and bridges, appear to be nothing compared to the vast polar caps or the magnificence of the Himalayas. However, on the night side of the planet lights from villages, towns and cities clearly reveal how extensively people have taken over the planet.” (van Pelt, 2005, pp. 3-4) But are van Pelt’s assumptions really the overall motives of future passengers for going to space?

In order to verify this, results from a survey conducted by Futron in 2002 are taken into consideration. According to Futron, 450 “qualified” individuals were asked on their most interesting aspects of a flight. The respondents had to evaluate each aspect, and not solely concentrate on one aspect. The results were as follows:

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Figure 2: Most Interesting Aspects of a Flight (Futron, 2002)

It becomes very obvious that viewing the Earth from space is the most interesting aspect of a flight. More than 60% of the respondents (63% ≈ 283 people) evaluated this aspect as being very important. For another 20% of the interviewed persons, it is somewhat important, so altogether for an 83% (≈ 374 people) viewing the Earth from above is the core motive and main decision criteria of going to space. Experiencing the acceleration of a rocket launch does not play a significant role; only 27% of the respondents (≈ 122 people) marked this as being very important, however, for a 34% (≈ 153 people) of them it is somewhat important. Furthermore, 43% of all respondents (≈ 194 people) indicated that the aspect of experiencing what only astronauts and cosmonauts have experienced is not important. As a conclusion, a space flight is normally not done because of prestige purposes or the outcome of being kind of a pioneer. Finally, there is only a 24% (≈ 108 people) that mainly want to go to space because of experiencing weightlessness.

Although the results of Futron point out that prestige is not a central motive of the passengers, the so-called Veblen effect, named after its discoverer Thorstein Bunde Veblen, assumes the opposite. Accordingly, “consumers purchase the higher-priced goods, whereas similar low-priced (but not identical) substitutes are available.” This is “caused either by the belief that higher price means higher quality, or by the desire for conspicuous consumption (to be seen as buying an expensive, prestige item).” (Business Dictionary, 2008) On the whole, it is difficult to determine in how far this effect influences the decision of people for going into space.

2.3 Benefits of Space Tourism

In general, space tourism is a very sensitive topic with opinions that are extremely divergent. Sigmund Jähn for example, a cosmonaut and the first German to go to space, is categorically against space tourism. “The idea that one day whole tour groups will start a journey to space bothers me. This is not what I imagined when I chose my job. Space travel in my eyes is research contributing to the future of mankind; however, tourism is solely a question of money.” (Weber, 2007, p. 89)

In contrast, others see the side effects that space tourism entails, for example Dr. Robert A. Goehlich, who lectured the world’s first Space Tourism Master’s/PhD courses at Keio University Yokohama, Japan, between 2003 and 2005. He believes that “space spin-off technologies contribute significantly to non-space applications and industries. Information sharing about spin-offs is important because it helps to promote awareness about the indirect benefits of space activities on our everyday lives.” Furthermore, “space tourism should not be viewed as a new industry, but as an extension of tourism on Earth.” (Goehlich, personal communication, 2008)

Economically spoken, a steady increase in suborbital flights results in declining costs for the operators, for example through economies of scale, and thus in declining ticket prices, a process that is supposed to stimulate economic growth on the whole. Irrespective of the different opinions on space tourism, there are various inventions that would not have been possible without space flight. A fire in a space station is always a very perilous issue. In order to lower this risk, the NASA developed smoke detectors for its first sky laboratory Skylab in the seventies. Nowadays smoke detectors have become indispensable in factories, airplanes, and residential houses. But space flight has also led to improvements in the medicine. On average, there are four out of ten thousand children that die of a cot death (sudden death of the baby before its first birthday).

Nowadays special sensors, which were used in sensor suits during the D-II-Shuttle- Mission in 1993 , control the heartbeat as well as the breathing of the babies. Furthermore, solar cells and fuel cells have not been invented for space flight, but they have been substantially advanced through it. (Schmidt, 2007, pp. 46-47) Finally, many people forget that satellites are the cornerstones for today’s television, Internet as well as all navigation systems.

Virgin Galactic for example stresses the enormous significance that space flight has to the future of mankind. According to the company, “space has changed the way we live and think, from instant global communications to a better understanding of climate change.” Furthermore, Virgin Galactic aims at unlocking “the potential benefits that will come from safe and affordable manned space access.” (Virgin Galactic, 2008)

2.4 Obstacles to Space Tourism

A plethora of companies wish to make space tourism a viable industry in the future. On the whole, the development of a perpetual space tourism market is most sensitive to cost and safety aspects. Many people argue that this form of tourism is solely made for millionaires pursuing their dreams, with reference to the first self-funded orbital flights to the ISS of Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, Dr. Greg Olsen, Anousheh Ansari, and Dr. Charles Simonyi, who all spent around $20 million for experiencing something that only a few have experienced so far. Suborbital space flights are supposed to initially cost 100 times less, roughly around $200.000. However, this is a price that might not attract sufficient customers in the long term. In order to overcome this obstacle, suborbital space operators as well as other space tourism organisations have to increase public space awareness at first. The higher the interest and demand in space flight the more likely are prices to decrease. Furthermore, the particular government has to be convinced of the necessity and the benefits of space travel in order to provide ongoing financial support to the industry.

Even more importantly will be safety issues. If initial flights go wrong and people get hurt or even die, this would presumably lead to a rejection of the whole business. In the past, the USA experienced two fatal accidents: the loss of Challenger in 1986 and the loss of Columbia in 2003. Furthermore, Russia lost one cosmonaut because of the capsule’s malfunctioning parachute system in 1967, and three further persons because of a leak in the pressure cabin during re-entry in 1971. On average, one out of 60 space missions failed. Compared to commercial aviation, the ratio is one out of two million flights. Mass space tourism will require a safety level close to that of commercial aviation because otherwise the market will not be huge enough. (van Pelt, 2005, pp. 37- 38) In Dr. Robert A. Goehlich’s opinion the complexity of safety standards is severe since “too high safety standards would mean a showstopper for space tourism because it is not technically and economically feasible, however, too low safety standards would mean a showstopper for space tourism too, because ethical aspects render it unfeasible.” (Goehlich, personal communication, 2008)

Finally, environmental restrictions might also be obstacles to space tourism since space transportation generally requires a high level of energy and generates a number of pollutants at the same time.

2.5 Stages of Space Tourism

Space tourism does not only happen in space itself. There are different forms of space tourism at different price levels, also including forms that take place on Earth but nevertheless have to do with space. All these different stages are discussed in the following. Furthermore, the state of realisation is included. The basis therefore is a description of space tourism stages by Dr. Robert A. Goehlich, which can be found in Trends & Issues in Global Tourism 2007. (Goehlich, 2007, pp. 217-221) On top of that, the author of the present work is going to expand this approach. Again, additional information is cited directly.

The first stage includes all natural attractions related to space tourism, which are either for free or are low-priced, but nevertheless do create revenues to the industry. Typical natural attractions are viewing the Northern Lights, viewing an Eclipse of the Sun as well as an Eclipse of the Moon. A business that has recognized the possibility of gaining revenues from viewing the Northern Lights is Arctic Experience, a tour operator offering holidays in the Arctic region, for example on Iceland and Greenland as well as in Sweden, Lapland, Norway, Finland and Canada. Besides a plethora of tours, Arctic Experience also offers Northern Lights holidays. The Northern Lights Mystery for example has the duration of three to five hours and costs £44 (approximately $88). The greatest chance to watch this phenomenon is between November and March (Arctic Experience, 2007).

Also viewing an Eclipse of the Sun can be regarded as a phenomenon related to space tourism and there are many people that are interested in observing this event when occurring.

The astronomical observatory Urania in Jena, Germany, offers the possibility of viewing the starry sky each Tuesday and Friday (Urania Sternwarte Jena e.V., 2008) or, if imminent, viewing an Eclipse of the Moon. An indication of the price could not be found on the homepage.

As a conclusion, natural attractions can either be for free or they are low-priced. Thus, the price range is set between $0 and $100.

The second stage of space tourism is a terrestrial tour. This stage includes theme parks, organised tours to watch rocket launches, and space camps. An example for a theme park is The Milky Way in North Devon, United Kingdom, which is offering space adventures as a main attraction for families such as a cosmic typhoon, droid destroyer dodgems, a clone zone as well as a time warp. The price for one ticket is £9 (approximately $18). (The Milky Way, 2008) Organised tours to watch rocket launches are a specialty of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The price for such an event is subject to change, but in general prices for a guided tour vary between $13 and $38. (Kennedy Space Center, 2008) Finally, the Space Camp located at Huntsville, Alabama, offers training in a centrifuge as well as in a jet simulator and presentations in a Spacedome theatre. Prices depend on the length of each programme, but normally vary between $275 and $1.299. (U.S. Space & Rocket Center, 2008) So, the price range for a terrestrial tour commonly is between $10 and $1.300.

The next stage is a so-called parabolic flight. With such a flight consecutive periods of weightlessness are reproduced although being on Earth. Parabolic flights are used “to conduct short-term microgravity scientific and technological investigations, to test instrumentation prior to use in space, to validate operational and experimental procedures, and to train astronauts for a future space flight.” (European Space Agency, 2008) A specially-featured aircraft initially flies at an altitude of approximately 6.000 metres at a speed of about 800 km/h, before performing a climb to an altitude of 7.500 metres. This leads to an acceleration of 1.8 g (1.8 times the acceleration of gravity on the ground) for approximately 20 seconds. Afterwards, the engine thrust is reduced to almost zero and the aircraft performs the actual parabola at a speed of about 390 km/h. Having arrived at the peak of the parabola at approximately 8.500 metres, the aircraft starts descending continuously. During this time, again about 20 seconds, the crew experiences weightlessness caused by the free fall. The pilot then turns into the second hypergravity phase with 1.8 g and prepares for the next climb. These manoeuvres are repeated 30 times per flight. (European Space Agency, 2000) Figure 2 visualizes the different steps of a parabolic flight.

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Figure 3: Steps of a Parabolic Flight (Radak.net, 2007)

Nowadays parabolic flights are also available to the public. The German business Yamando offers a trip via a Russian space agency including a parabolic flight for about 7.000 Euros (approximately $10.200). (Yamando, 2008) Also WeltraumTouristik offers such a trip. Flights take place in Florida, Nevada as well as in California and cost about 4.400 Euros (approximately $6.400). (WeltraumTouristik.de, 2007)

Thus, the price range for parabolic flights is between $6.000 and $10.000.

The fourth stage of space tourism is a high-altitude flight or so-called edge-of-space flight. Passengers that take part in such a flight will experience a view on Earth’s curvature as well as on the endless dark of space beyond. Currently, there is not a broad offer to take part in such a flight. However, an edge-of-space flight can be booked via Mydays, a German business specialised on gifts for different occasions. The offer contains a flight of one hour with an aircraft called MIG-31 Foxhound, reaching an altitude between 21 and 25 kilometres. Furthermore, the complete equipment (helmet, g-force suit, oxygen mask, emergency kit etc.) is provided. A video and photographing service is also included as well as a personal certificate after having passed the flight. The departure takes place in Niszhny Novgorod, Russia. At the time of writing this work the price of the offer was 20.985 Euros (approximately $30.600) (Mydays, 2008). Since there are no comparable offers, the price for an edge-of-space flight is set at $30.000.

The next stage would be a suborbital flight, which is the overall topic of this work. A suborbital flight has not been performed for commercial purposes so far, except for SpaceShipOne ’ s qualifying flights for winning the X Prize.

A suborbital flight means a trip up to the so-called Karman Line, the point where space is defined to begin, at an altitude of approximately 100 kilometres. Passengers taking part in such a flight will experience some minutes of weightlessness and they will experience a tremendous view on Earth. Michel van Pelt elucidates that “on the ground we are lured into the perception that the Earth is endless, eternal and the biggest thing in the universe. From space, however, our planet reveals itself to be a tiny oasis in the vast hostility of space.” (van Pelt, 2005, p. 4) Figure 3 illustrates how a suborbital flight might look like.

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Figure 4: Suborbital Flight (Space Today Online, 2004)

At the moment, there are many companies planning to make suborbital space tourism available to the public soon, for example Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Eric Anderson’s Space Adventures, Jim Benson’s Benson Space Company, Stephen Wurst’s Space Access, Jane Reifert’s Incredible Adventures, George French’s Rocketplane Limited, Steve Bennett’s Starchaser Industries as well as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, just to name the most promising ones.

A description as well as an analysis of above mentioned businesses follows in the course of this work. According to Virgin Galactic, it “expects to be the first company to provide suborbital flights to the general public.” (Virgin Galactic, 2008) Tickets cost $200.000 and “first flights to space will be in 2009.” (Whitehorn, personal communication, 2008) Its competitor Space Adventures expects the tickets to cost $102.000 (Space Adventures, 2008), thus the price range for suborbital flights is set between $100.000 and $200.000.

The sixth stage of space tourism is an orbital flight with accommodation, for example a stay at the ISS. Space Adventures has broad experience offering such flights since the company was the one that arranged and conducted the space flights for Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, Dr. Greg Olsen, Anousheh Ansari and Dr. Charles Simonyi. According to Space Adventures, passengers can join one of the so-called taxi missions to deliver them to the ISS. After spending just over a week on the ISS, they will return to Earth with the crew that just spent six months at the space station. The price for this mission is between $30 and $40 million. (Space Adventures, 2008) Since there are no comparable offers, the price range for orbital flights with a stay at the ISS is the above mentioned one by Space Adventures. Although the number of businesses engaged in orbital space tourism is rapidly increasing, the industry still is in an early pioneer phase, which means that there are approximately two tourists per year going to space. (Goehlich, 2002, p. 3) An orbital flight combined with a stay at a space hotel might be a future step, but belongs to utopia in the author’s eyes at the time of writing this work. A Moon flight will be a further stage of space tourism according to Space Adventures, which is going to perform such a trip in the near future. The planned procedure of the lunar mission is as follows: “You will begin your journey to the far side of the Moon by first launching aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. Then, a subsequent launch of an unmanned rocket booster will occur. Your spacecraft will rendezvous with this additional system in low-Earth-orbit (LEO). The engagement of the two will provide your spacecraft with the required propellant to travel to the Moon. Once the firing of the booster is complete, the two systems will separate and you will continue on your majestic journey.” (Space Adventures, 2008) This offer does not include a landing on the Moon, but an orbit of the Moon will take place. If such a trip will be feasible within the next years remains uncertain, however, Space Adventures already offers seats each at a price of $100 million. (Space Adventures, 2008) According to this offer, the price range for a Moon flight is also $100 million.

Mars flights and all flights beyond will probably be the last stage of space tourism. Since these flights are not realisable at the time of writing this work, no forecasts will be performed by the author.

As a conclusion, the author provides an own table of the different stages of space tourism discussed above.

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Table 1: Stages of Space Tourism

3. Feasibility Study and Future Projections of Suborbital Space Tourism

At this point, the author will conduct the actual feasibility study of suborbital space tourism. Crucial aspects of this chapter are the Virgin Galactic approach, an analysis of Virgin Galactic ’ s direct competitors in suborbital space tourism, an analysis of suborbital reusable launch vehicles and their manufacturers, an overview about the regulatory framework and non-profit space tourism organisations, as well as the suborbital space tourism demand, the latter which reflects the future projections at the same time.

3.1 The Virgin Galactic Approach

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Figure 5: Virgin Galactic Logo (Virgin Galactic, 2008)

In the following, the author is going to illustrate the Virgin Galactic approach consisting of the core product, which is a suborbital flight with SpaceShipTwo, the place, which is Mojave Air & Spaceport in California, Spaceport America in New Mexico, and Spaceport Sweden in Kiruna, as well as the communication policy, which refers to the so-called Accredited Space Agents (ASA’s). The main source of information for this is Virgin Galactic ’ s homepage (Virgin Galactic, 2008), which is complemented by interviews and by other sources cited directly. At the same time, this approach results in a SWOT analysis of the company at the end of this chapter.

Virgin Galactic is a commercial space tourism company belonging to the huge Virgin Group, the latter which was founded by Sir Richard Branson in 1970 and is headquartered in London, UK. The Virgin Group consists of a plethora of businesses acting in different fields, such as travel and tourism, leisure and pleasure, shopping, media and telecommunications as well as health. On the whole, the Virgin Group has established over 200 branded companies worldwide and employs approximately 50.000 people in 29 countries. The joint revenue in 2006 was about $20 billion. (Virgin, 2007) At the moment, Will Whitehorn is President of Virgin Galactic. The vision defined by the company is “making private space travel available to everyone and by creating the world's first commercial space line” (Virgin Galactic, 2008), but it also plans “a variety of commercial payload, satellite launch, and scientific applications.” (Whitehorn, personal communication, 2008)

After having heralded the Year of the Spaceship and having unveiled SpaceShipTwo in New York on January 23, 2008, the company is going to operate privately built spaceships modelled on the legendary SpaceShipOne, which nowadays can be found at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.

3.1.1 The Product

As already mentioned above, the core product of Virgin Galactic is a suborbital flight. In the following, the author will describe this product and all the factors that are in close relationship to it, for example the vehicles, manufacturers, and partners involved in the programme.

So, what will the $200.000 experience look like? At first, the passengers arrive at a hotel nearby the spaceport where they will have “a three-day stay with meals inclusively”. (Berner, personal communication, 2008) The offer also includes pre-flight preparation and training at the spaceport, for example g-force training in a centrifuge and zero-g training in a parabolic flight. According to Virgin Galactic, “a detailed preparation program is currently being developed in conjunction with medical and space flight experts.” After having finished a medical exam in order to check their health, the passengers are ready for taking the flight, which is described in the following.

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Figure 6: WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo (Voyageurs Dans L'Espace, 2007)

SpaceShipTwo, a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) able to carry six passengers and two pilots, starts its trip from a spaceport attached to a mothership called WhiteKnightTwo (see Figure 6). At an altitude of 50.000 feet (approximately 15 kilometres) the spaceship will be released from the mothership and ignites its hybrid rockets. The mothership returns back home, whereas SpaceShipTwo starts its climb to its apogee of about 360.000 feet (approximately 110 kilometres). This procedure will last almost 90 seconds and is performed at a speed of over three times the speed of sound. The passengers will then experience some minutes of weightlessness and will have the opportunity to see over a 1.000 miles in any direction, before SpaceShipTwo prepares for descending. During the re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the feathered wings act as a kind of air brake and decelerate the spaceship. At an altitude of about 60.000 feet (approximately 18 kilometres) the wings are rearranged into their initial position, which allows a smooth landing of the spacecraft at the spaceport. The whole flight is supposed to last two and a half hours.

Afterwards, the passengers receive their astronaut wings, which entitle them to be official astronauts. This is due to the fact that in the United States people who travel above an altitude of 50 miles (approximately 80 kilometres) are automatically designated as astronauts.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 7: Virgin Galactic's Suborbital Flight (The Economist, 2008)

As already mentioned, flights are supposed to begin as early as 2009, but the company does not regard itself as being in a competition and thus it will not launch until the test flight programme has been completed with superior results.

In general, there will be one flight per week in the early phase and one or two flights a day as operations progress. Furthermore, there is a special deposit structure concerning the first passengers: The first 100 to fly, so-called Founders, have to pay the full price of a ticket directly, which initially is $200.000. The Pioneers, people amongst the first 1.000 to go to space, will have to pay a deposit between $100.000 and $175.000. Finally, there are the Voyagers coming afterwards that have to pay a deposit of $20.000. Since mid 2005 Virgin Galactic has been selling tickets. Hitherto, the company has received 250 concrete bookings worldwide for a suborbital flight, generating deposits worth $35 million. (Whitehorn, personal communication, 2008) Additionally, there are 85.000 people that showed their interest by registering on the company’s homepage. Among the first 100 to fly to space will be German Sonja Rohde, who met Richard Branson during a trip to Africa and was immediately impressed of his plans. Insistent rumours state that also Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will be among the Founders. (Weber, 2007, p. 87)


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Feasibility Study and Future Projections of Suborbital Space Tourism at the Example of Virgin Galactic
Cologne Business School Köln
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feasibility, study, future, projections, suborbital, space, tourism, example, virgin, galactic
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Matthias Otto (Author), 2008, Feasibility Study and Future Projections of Suborbital Space Tourism at the Example of Virgin Galactic, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/186729


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