Survey Predicts 140 Private Space Travelers in Orbit Through 2020

Richard Garriott

An estimated 140 private individuals will travel into orbit on a commercial basis through 2020, according to a new market forecast done by Space Adventures.

Officials from the Virginia-based space tourism company held a press conference on Thursday to explain their results and to provide an update on the company’s planned circum-lunar flyby. Space Adventures Chairman Eric Anderson and board member Richard Garriott discussed the results of their survey, which was done at the request of NASA, Boeing and other companies.

Over the past decade, seven private space tourists — including Garriott — flew to the International Space Sstation on eight missions (one man flew twice). Space Adventures expect orbital space tourism to increase substantially over the next decade as new private vehicles come online to challenge Russia’s monopoly on space tourism.

According to Anderson, the details of the survey include:

  • The 140 private individuals flying in space through 2020 does not include flights paid for by NASA or foreign governments
  • Figures are based on the availability of the International Space Station and two private commercial destinations in low Earth orbit
  • Tickets would be sold through direct sales to individuals,  lotteries, media promotions, corporate ventures, etc.
  • Prices will remain in the $20-$50 million during this period
  • Prices could come down if a commercial provider introduces a vehicle that can be reused multiple times without requiring a significant overhaul
  • Russia is building a new 4-6 seat vehicle set to debut around 2017 that could open up additional seats
  • Other factors that could impact upon the numbers negatively include:
    • Early ending to one of space station programs
    • Global economic meltdown
    • Accidents by one of the commercial providers
  • Orbital spaceflight will require about two months of training (“I just don’t see a way that training time down to anything less than 6 weeks”)
  • In the 2020s, could be several thousand people flying to orbit

Garriott said that the fact that commercial vehicles are being built and there is strong competition means that the price of access to space will come down quite quickly. He added that it will be interesting to see when the cost of getting into space and operating there will begin to match the commercial revenues that can be earned in microgravity.

Garriott conducted a protein crystal growth experiment during his commercial flight to the International Space Station, making a significant dent in the cost of the mission. Crystals grow differently in microgravity, allowing researcher to better understand their structures. This has enormous potential in the development of new medicines.

Governments have been conducting a lot of fundamental research in this area, but they are not focused on how to make a profit, Garriott said. As the cost of space access comes down, commercial researchers will be able to develop this field of research with a focus on profits.

At least two of the 140 private individuals in space will be lunarnauts. Space Adventures plans to send two tourists on a flight around the moon as early as late 2015. Anderson also said that the company is talking to other parties, including Boeing, about human flights beyond low Earth orbit.

Anderson — who has been sending clients into orbit for 10 years — says that he plans to take a flight himself during the next decade.