Jun 11 2020
The success of the first privatized astronaut launch has been a milestone for the emerging commercial space travel industry. On May 30, 2020, the US-based aerospace company SpaceX launched two astronauts into orbit and docked to the International Space Station (ISS). The flight is a significant technological achievement most notably due to the reusability of the Falcon 9 rocket that initially carried the crew into orbit. The reusability of rockets affords significant cost savings for space exploration using this technology in the future. This presents a wide range of industry implications for both the US aerospace industry group and emerging industries seeking to capitalize on space tourism, space infrastructure development and R&D activities.
Commercialized space travel is likely to become a significant part of the $1.5 trillion Global Tourism industry (IBISWorld report X9001-GL) within the current decade. Thus far, nascent iterations are already underway with companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin leading the way towards commercial space travel. However, there is a distinction to be made with the emerging space tourism industry. While Virgin Galactic has pioneered the commercial space flight, which is essentially a flight to the outer reaches of the earth’s atmosphere, other companies are proposing space travel to the ISS, the moon and even Mars.
The cost for a trip to the ISS is estimated to be in the tens of millions according to Axiom Space, an international leader in space travel logistics. The company plans to build on to the current ISS to allow for space tourists, with further plans to develop a new space station for commercial purposes. Axiom currently arranges space travel for government space agencies to the ISS in addition to facilitating research and manufacturing initiatives. Recently, the company signed a contract with SpaceX to sell a week-long trip to the ISS for about $55.0 million a head in 2021. The company notes that the majority of the inhibitive price tag of space travel is attributable to the launch process. Going forward, further advances made by the $34.2 billion Space Vehicle & Missile Manufacturing industry (33641b) are expected to gradually bring costs down. The successful development of reusable rockets by SpaceX is among the first steps of many towards the viability of accessible commercial space travel.
From a broader perspective, the industry implications of commercial space travel remain various and promising. Although nascent, demand for space travel among those that can afford it may rise significantly as barriers to entry decline. Moreover, continued development of space craft in the US will encourage growth in the US manufacturing sector due to the vast supply chains involved with spacecraft manufacturing. Examples include specialized engineering and metals manufacturing (33351). Services related to space travel may also receive tailwinds from its growth. Services such as software developers (51121), weather forecasting (OD5752) and specialized freight transportation (48422) will be involved in the future of space tourism. Although nascent, the commercial space travel industry has boundless potential.