Advocates See Human Space Travel Costs Declining Sharply

Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit
Artists conception of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in orbit

Open space
The Engineer

Tom Shelley, vice-president of marketing with Space Adventures, regards [billionaut Dennis] Tito as a pioneer: ‘He was the first one who put up the money and really proved to a lot of people out there that there is money in private space, that there are people who are prepared to pay for themselves to go up into space and it’s not just the governments who need to pay for space flight.’

As the ‘final frontier’s’ equivalent of Thomas Cook, Shelley’s gaze is fixed on the tens of thousands of people he thinks would pay good money to visit space. However, as the demand for space tourism drives down the launch costs, he believes that the industry will create other opportunities. ‘In general, it’s accepted that the cost of delivery of 1kg of payload into orbit is approximately $10,000,’ said Shelley. ‘That is very, very expensive and it’s one of the biggest hurdles we have to the long-term exploration of space. Private space flight will bring the volume that is required to reduce those launch costs.’…

Given the bold claims being made for the technology, it seems reasonable to ask why the likes of NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA) — the ‘old space’ community — are not turning to similar models? Well, in fact, they are. In one particularly notable example of old space recognising the value of new space, NASA recently awarded SpaceX — a company founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk — a $1.6bn contract to develop its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and spacecraft to resupply the ISS after the space shuttle retires. Space Adventures’ Shelley believes that the SpaceX contract — which includes 12 flights between 2010 and 2015 — mounts a hugely compelling case for new space.

‘For around $35bn, NASA will be developing a new rocket and a new Orion capsule,’ he said. ‘The ESA ATV cost about $2bn to develop and $600m to build each one. For $1.6bn, NASA will get 12 launches with capsules and rockets of the SpaceX Falcon 9 — the magnitude of difference is extraordinary.’

Read the full story.