“And I was running far away
Would I run off into the world someday?” Runaway, Aurora.
The risks and drawbacks of making space travel more affordable and accessible
The song has been popular on Instagram reels for a long time. The singer doubts whether she will ever “run off the world.” Talking about running off the world, space travel is what comes to our minds. While space travel has been restricted to cosmonauts for a long time, the era of commercial space travel has emerged. But will space travel in the future be more accessible to everyone?
With private companies and billionaire entrepreneurs coming into the scenario, the space tourism industry is growing bigger. Companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX have ventured into the space tourism industry to launch commercial space flights.
The year 2021 has been quite a landmark in the space tourism industry. The private companies launched several spaceflights with non-professional passengers on board. Celebrities like William Shatner and Wally Funk had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of traveling to space.
Several private companies are also planning to open hotels in space. However, space tourism still remains outside the reach of the common people due to its high cost. Will space travel in the future still be so restricted to a few people?
Why is space travel expensive?
Commercial space tourism in the present time can only be afforded by billionaires. Spaceflight tickets are usually priced at six figures. Spaceflight tickets at only four figures are not going to be available any time soon. It might not be possible to provide a specific date for when affordable tickets for spaceflights will be available. But most experts agree that it’s going to take at least another decade to make spaceflights affordable and accessible.
#1 Chemical propulsion
Space travel in the future can not become cheap as long as people need to rely on chemical propulsion to get lifted into orbit. According to the Tsiolkovsky equation, a rocket needs 10 to 25 times the propellant for the mass that it’s putting into orbit.
To achieve this, rocket designs revolve around multiple stages. The various stages are discarded during flight. It ensures that the dead weight while ascending gets reduced. But recovering or replacing and then reusing does not make it any less expensive.
#2 R&D costs
Moreover, this is the first generation of launching commercial spaceflights. Therefore, the cost of R&D is still ongoing, and it is likely to remain for a long time. As long as the era of commercial space flights remains in its nascent stage, the R&D cost will have to be borne.
#3 Seating capacity
Every spaceflight can carry only a few people to space. Commercial flights would be more expensive if the flights could not accommodate so many passengers at a time.
Virgin Galactic’s test flight had Branson with three other passengers and two pilots. The company sold around 600 tickets for future flights at $250,000 each.
Blue Origin launched its first spaceflight with Jeff Bezos on board. The flight had two other passengers. The New Sheppard flew higher into outer space than Virgin Galactic’s flight. The company also launched two other spaceflights in 2021. Blue Origin will start selling tickets for its future launches at a price similar to Virgin Galactic.
If you want the price to go down, the space travel in the future should be able to carry more passengers at a time. But accommodating too many people on spaceflight is quite difficult as it requires the burning of too much fuel and energy.
#4 Space flights are not a mode of transportation
Increasing accommodation inside the space flights isn’t enough. You need to ensure that all the seats are getting filled. Significant demand for spaceflight tickets is necessary to fill up all the seats. It can be done if spaceflights become a mode of transportation.
But to make spaceflights a mode of transport, you need to ensure that the flights are operating at a great speed. In outer space, the laws of physics don’t work. Therefore, speeding up the flights won’t be something easy to do.
#5 Safety measures
Any company planning to launch a spaceflight needs to conduct several tests. Blue Origin got into various controversies regarding the safety of its spaceflights. The company revealed some of the safety features of their New Shepard launch system.
The New Shepard rocket travels through the atmosphere for three minutes after it is lifted off. Then the passenger capsule gets released, and the rocket falls back to the Earth. Something might go wrong in this process. Therefore, an emergency-escape system is created to signal the passenger capsule to detach.
Blue Origin has conducted the escape system of the New Shepard once on the launchpad, once in midair, and another time in space. It helped in understanding whether the capsule would be able to carry the passengers back to safety.
Once the capsule is landing back on the Earth, three parachutes are supposed to deploy. If one parachute fails, the capsule exerts more pressure on the downward engines. If two parachutes fail, a crushable “bumper” below the capsule helps in making the landing smooth.
SpaceX was ready to send human beings to space on their parachute systems after their 27th test. After a decade of facing setbacks in the testing processes, the SpaceX Crew Dragon became certified by NASA. But before sending non-professionals, every spaceflight needs to launch astronauts into orbit and bring them back home safely.
The stringent testing process to ensure the safety of each spaceflight needs a lot of capital. A company might need to test its aircraft as many as 27 times to get approval from NASA. Therefore, the pricing of spaceflight tickets can be called justified as they meet all safety measures.
Risks and drawbacks of making space travel affordable and accessible
After understanding why space tourism is expensive, you will be able to gain an idea about some of the risks and drawbacks of making it affordable. Let us sum up in point the various risks and drawbacks of making space tourism affordable and accessible:
- Without chemical propulsion, the spaceflights won’t be able to operate. Therefore, the Tsiolkovsky equation needs to be followed to launch them into orbits.
- Cutting down on R&D costs will prevent the spaceflights from becoming more advanced.
- Increasing seating capacity can reduce costs. But increased seating costs will also lead to fuel and energy expenses rising. Therefore, companies won’t be able to reduce ticket costs in the end.
- Spaceflights aren’t a mode of transport. People are getting into spaceflights to have an incredible experience. Therefore, the demand for spaceflight tickets isn’t too high and leads to high prices of tickets. The technology to create spaceflights as a mode of transport isn’t present.
- Reducing costs might compromise the safety of the flights. Every spaceflight has to undergo multiple tests to ensure that they are safe for human beings. The need to cut costs will prevent companies from testing their spacecraft multiple times.
The first space tourist paid $20 million to Russia to go to space. Dennis Tito fulfilled his lifelong dream of going to space after innumerable rejections. He remained in Earth’s orbit for eight days and traveled to and from the International Space Station in 2001.
Tito paid a much higher price than what spaceflight tickets cost now. Therefore, it can be expected that the price of spaceflight tickets will go down in the upcoming years. The industry of space tourism is likely to be explored by everyday citizens after a decade or two.
The expansion of the space tourism industry will generate profits. It will also create job opportunities as the industry will need more engineers and other qualified experts to design the spaceflights. The unfathomable dream of going to space will gradually become true for regular citizens as it becomes more affordable and accessible in the near future.