Saturday, March 1, 2014

Space Travel For The Wealthy

New Frontiers


Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwoJohn Sunyer of FT writes: "Virgin Galactic flights might, for example, in future open up suborbital intercontinental travel – or “point-to-point transportation” – ferrying the super-rich around the globe via the space environment, achieving significant improvements to today’s travel time between distant hubs."

Credit & Source: FT

An article, by John Sunyer, in the Financial Times looks at the business of space travel, notably on how a number of companies are investing in commercial space flight. The initial customers will be the wealthy and super-wealthy, who would benefit from advanced space-age rockets, which would blast them into sub-orbital flight (designated as 100 km above sea level) over the earth, as a means to cut travel times, but also as a means to eventually set up colonies on Mars.

Sunyer writes:
Today the idea, if not quite the practice, of living in space is coming back into fashion. If the 20th century space race was about the might of the US government, the space race today is about something that could be even more powerful – private wealth. “Investment in commercial space flight has become one of the big trends among the super-rich,” says Liam Bailey, head of global research at Knight Frank. The property agency has identified more than 70 ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs – people with at least $30m in net assets) investing in commercial space travel, 13 of whom are billionaires with a combined wealth of $175bn.
Over the past few years the necessary technology has come into the hands of an unlikely group of young tech billionaires and private contractors. And it is their start-ups that have the boldest ambitions. There are about 10 private companies engaged in space transport at present, including SpaceX, created by billionaire PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos. Space tourism, driven by companies such as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Greason’s XCOR Aerospace, aim to give the super wealthy a taste of what it is like to be an astronaut by sending them into suborbital space.
Aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, passengers will see the view that eluded mankind until 50 years ago, and one that only about 500 people have seen in reality: the curvature of the Earth set against the blackness of space. The two-hour journey will blast six passengers and two pilots nearly 70 miles into the sky, experiencing about five minutes of weightlessness before turning back and landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico, frequently described as the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.
The privilege does not come cheap; tickets cost $250,000 each. To date, Virgin Galactic has amassed about $80m in deposits. In customary happy-go-lucky style, Branson says he and his children will be on board the maiden flight later this year (although he initially predicted that his first passengers would take off in 2007; since then, as Tom Bower outlines in his new book, entitled Branson: Behind the Mask , the project has been beset by explosions, deaths and delays).
 [...] 
Virgin Galactic flights might, for example, in future open up suborbital intercontinental travel – or “point-to-point transportation” – ferrying the super-rich around the globe via the space environment, achieving significant improvements to today’s travel time between distant hubs.
Suborbital travel could cut the journey time from London to Sydney to just a couple of hours, ditto from San Francisco to Singapore. Dubai to Vancouver would take about 90 minutes; Moscow to New York, just an hour.
If this sounds hard to believe, so did manned space travel 50 years ago, as did the idea of any type of commercial flight 150 years ago. What is even more futuristic and fits within the realm of science-fiction novels is the colonization of our nearest planetary neighbour, Mars. One of the companies working on this is SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, an Internet billionaire:
But SpaceX, founded in 2002, is his most ambitious project. Working out of a shiny white, 1m sq ft factory in California, SpaceX has already made history: in 2012 it became the first private company to dock a spacecraft at the International Space Station.
Still, its ultimate goal is to establish a permanent settlement on Mars. By using rockets that can return to Earth intact, rather than burn up in the atmosphere, the price of a space mission would be cut dramatically. Offering cheap, reliable delivery services to Nasa and commercial clients is, for Musk, a means to perfect the technology that could one day get humans to Mars.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to send the first person there by 2025,” he says. “Developing reusable rockets are the fundamental breakthrough needed in rocketry, without which there will be no Mars base. We aren’t there quite yet, but we’re working on it.”
As are the Dutch with a project called Mars One; 2025 is only a decade from now, and it will come soon enough. This makes it likely that in the next few years, more private companies will join a far different kind of space race that we witnessed in the 1960s; instead of the nations of the United States and the Soviet Union vying for supremacy, it will be private enterprises vying to establish colonies on Mars, and from there building cities and then states—they likely taking on the names of today's Internet billionaires. The reasons for doing so are the same reasons humans have done so for thousands of years. And this is where the story begins all over again.

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You can read the rest of the article at [FT].

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