Is the ultraluxe market big enough to sustain space tourism?

A Virgin Galactic spacecraft in flight with three people onboard in 2019. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic
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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

As companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin inch closer to launching their long-delayed plans for space tourism, one travel analytics firm is questioning the long-term viability of the ultraexclusive, ultrapricey and literally out of this world adventures.

Initial demand is high. Virgin Galactic, for instance, has sold more than 600 seats at $200,000 and higher on future flights of its spacecraft Unity. Prices on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin are expected to be similar, although bids for a seat on its first manned flight of its New Shepard spacecraft, scheduled for July 20, have hit $2.8 million. And Space X is selling $55 million trips to the International Space Station.

• Related: Virgin Galactic 2021: More than just pie in the sky?

But beyond the initial clamor for the flights by the super-rich, the analytics firm Global Data said in a recent report that "demand could stagnate as the years go by if price does not decrease and scaling issues are not addressed."

"It is actually space travel's extremely high price point that could impact its viability beyond the short-term," said Ralph Hollister, Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData. "Until companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin can scale their technology to make it accessible to non-millionaires, these companies will have a target market which consists of roughly 0.7% of the global population. When considering that many high-net-worth individuals will find the idea of space travel too alienating, this minute percentage will decrease even further. This means that there could be a lack of demand after the initial rush for tickets has been satisfied."

Hollister said the pandemic could also negatively impact the viability of space travel.

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"According to GlobalData, gross disposable income dropped by 4.3% year-on-year in the U.S. in 2020, which is the nation with the most millionaires," Hollister said. "This shows that even luxury consumers from wealthy nations may have to refrain from premiumized experiences in the coming years as their financial positions have weakened."

And, of course, the companies also need to actually succeed at getting tourists into space.

Nearly a decade after it had first hoped to launch its space flights, Virgin Galactic last month finally completed its first manned test flight from its home at Spaceport America. The company has said it hopes to begin operating passenger flights by next year.

And while Blue Origin has scheduled its first manned flight of its New Shepard spacecraft, only time will tell when more flights for paying passengers might follow.

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