Human spaceflight — orbital, suborbital and beyond — will be key to the growth of the space industry in the coming years.
Why it matters: Right now, most revenue in the space industry is tied up in government contracts, but experts say the maturing industry will need tourism to grow into the $1 trillion economy some predict it could be.
- Tourism ventures may not bring in huge amounts of revenue when compared to the rest of the industry, but they could bolster it as a whole, bringing in new talent and making space something the public thinks about daily.
Driving the news: Two space tourism companies — Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin — are expected to fly passengers to suborbital space this year.
- Virgin Galactic's stock has been rallying, though what's fueling interest in the company isn't yet clear.
- SpaceX just penned a deal with Space Adventures to fly private citizens to orbit aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft next year.
- Northern Sky Research predicts the suborbital and orbital tourism market could be worth as much as $14 billion in revenue worldwide by 2028.
Details: NASA funded the development of SpaceX and Boeing's crewed systems, and now other companies are hoping to make use of them to fuel their own businesses.
- Axiom Space, which plans to build the first commercial space station, wants to use both companies to fly its own astronauts and even private tourists to orbit.
- Bigelow — a company that plans to build private, inflatable space stations — has already expressed interest in sending people to the International Space Station using SpaceX capsules.
- NASA hopes these kinds of collaborations will foster a robust economy in low-Earth orbit in order to transition the space agency into becoming a buyer of services instead of a provider.
Yes, but: The market for suborbital tourism and especially orbital tourism will likely be limited to just the most wealthy people on Earth, at least for the immediate future.
- There are also real questions about how long suborbital tourism will hold the public's interest.
- Orbital tourism is millions of dollars more expensive than a suborbital trip to space, and it likely won't get much cheaper in the near term, so if these suborbital space travelers get a taste for spaceflight, that may be as far as they can go.
- After an initial flurry of suborbital rides exhausts the market, people will be asking "What's next?" James Vedda of the Aerospace Corporation told Axios. "And then the next thing needs 10 more years of development. That gap is going to deflate the interest in the market."