When is the Blue Origin flight?
Blue Origin's first human launch with Jeff Bezos: When to watch and what to know. The launch is set for 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) on July 20, 2021. Space.comBlue Origin's first human launch with Jeff Bezos: When to watch and what to know
Where is Blue Origin launching from?
Blue Origin will launch four civilians, including the company's billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, on its its suborbital New Shepard rocket on Tuesday from Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas. space.comBlue Origin launch will be the 1st fully automated flight with civilian astronauts: report
How high did Richard Branson fly?
The Kármán line has been named after aerospace pioneer Theodore von Kármán. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic flight reached a height of 86 km while Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin flight is expected to go about 106 km high. DNA IndiaDNA Explainer: Can height to which Richard Branson travelled be termed 'space'? What experts say
19 July, 2021 - 03:10am
The first space tourist was US millionaire Dennis Tito who hitched a ride to the International Space Station with the Soviet Soyuz in 2001 and stayed as a crew member on board the space station for eight days. Since then, there have been 12 space tourists who visited the ISS, all launched on the Russian Soyuz rocket.
There has been a lull in such private trips to space the last decade until Virgin Galactic’s big event on 11 July. Richard Branson along with three of Virgin’s employees experienced several minutes of weightlessness as they rode on a winged plane — SpaceShipTwo — that was in turn air-launched by a supersonic plane, both of them developed by Virgin Galactic.
This flight has sparked an interesting debate in the space community on whether these four space tourists can be considered astronauts. One argument is that since they have received astronaut wings and have undergone some sort of training, they are definitely astronauts. The counterargument is a thought-provoking analogy on comparing these four space tourists to commercial airline passengers.
The Virgin Galactic team reached an altitude of around 90 km and since the US awards astronaut wings to anyone who crosses the 80 km altitude, they can definitely be considered as space tourists.
The very term ‘astronaut’ is actually a job designation at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). And digging into the origins of this word, it was introduced by NASA at the beginning of the space race to differentiate their astronauts from the Soviet cosmonauts and perhaps to claim supremacy over the Soviets who beat the Americans to space with both Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin. Whatever be the origins, the term astronaut has evolved to be an aspirational beacon for starry eyed kids and teens across the world, and has been one of the largest inspirations for generations of space engineers and scientists to pursue a career in space. By this logic, one could also want to preserve its sanctity and refuse to confer astronaut status on space tourists. Being an astronaut would lose its charm if anyone can simply buy their way into being one.
I would personally be happy to refer to the two pilots who manoeuvred the spaceplane with incredible acumen towards a perfect landing as astronauts. This is because, while the spaceplane fired its rocket motor during the ascent after air launch, the reentry was a fully manual and unpowered glide at Mach 3 speed, relying completely on the skill of the pilots for a safe landing.
This question would also be interesting from a legal standpoint, given the Rescue Agreement (an international agreement on the rights and obligations of states towards persons and objects in space) ratified by most space-faring countries does not talk about providing any special diplomatic status to space tourists.
Another interesting narrative is around the immediate future of suborbital tourism. Compared to the $10 million price tag on a trip to the ISS, Virgin’s offering of $250,000 per seat already has 600 reservations and a much longer waiting list. The immediate business potential for suborbital tourism would be similar to that of an elite theme park or a sky-diving experience for a small niche of population who can afford it.
In a longer time frame, these sub-orbital flights can be stepping stones to point-to-point transportation on earth, similar to the current commercial airline industry. This could reduce the current flight durations of 12 hours to less than an hour. But Elon Musk-led SpaceX’s Starship might make more financial sense for this use case, given its higher payload capacity compared to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Moreover, a glider like Virgin’s would require a much longer runway than current commercial flights do and is riskier given its no go-around capability while landing. Using Blue Origin’s New Shepard or SpaceX’s Starship would solve the long runway problem with their vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) but would again be risky for the spaceports closer to dense cities. Additionally, the regulatory aspects will have to be figured out, not to mention the large investments into the construction and maintenance of the space ports.
Military cargo transport could be another use case, but this would mostly be limited to a handful of wealthy countries who not only require it, but also can afford it.
While one can consider space tourism to contribute towards human presence on the Moon or Mars in future, suborbital space tourism has very little to offer here. The real stepping stone to long-duration human space flight would be the tourist missions to orbital space stations accompanied by long stays on-board. This would not only provide the much-needed data points for long-term effects of space on physiology and psychology, but also advance the development of life support systems and contribute towards self-sufficiency in space.
Watching the live stream of Virgin’s first commercial flight was quite fun but it was not as inspiring as SpaceX’s Starman, a mannequin on a Tesla (also founded by Elon Musk) roadster, launched into space. Could be the popularity of SpaceX and Elon Musk. It would be interesting to see how Blue Origin would mould the narrative during the live stream of their upcoming commercial sub-orbital flight on 20 July, which also happens to be unpiloted, and the first one at that.
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19 July, 2021 - 03:10am
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Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE) stock has gotten hammered this week, as investors are selling following the company's latest successful flight into space. Even Richard Branson flying on the latest mission wasn't enough to get investors excited about the shares. But there are some positives to take from a bad week for this growth stock.
While some observers may be underplaying the excitement of a few minutes in weightlessness in space, there may be more willing buyers of tickets than currently assumed. UBS estimates that Virgin Galactic will be raising ticket prices from $250,000 apiece to between $300,000 and $400,000, and thousands of buyers could line up. Here's a look at how big the potential market for these tickets could be.
The ticket price of $300,000 may seem crazy to you and I, but there are lots of people for which that's a drop in the bucket, and they're already spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars flying around on private jets.
I point these numbers out because we already know that wealthy people spend a lot of money each year on travel. And a $300,000 ticket to spend a few minutes in space isn't going to break the bank, especially when it's a comparable number to a private flight across the country.
To put the cost of a $300,000 ticket into perspective, for someone with a $100 million net worth, the ticket would cost at most 0.3% of their net worth. For comparison, someone with a net worth of $83,333 would spend about the same percentage of their wealth spending $250 to go skydiving.
What's amazing is that Virgin Galactic's early reservations weren't limited to these ultra-high net worth individuals. Seventy percent of pre-orders were from people with a net worth under $20 million. So the company's target market could be about 2 million people with a net worth over $10 million.
A $300,000 ticket for most of us is an insane amount of money, but for the wealthy, it's a drop in the bucket. And for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it could be worth it even for "regular" rich people.
In its presentation to investors in 2019, Virgin Galactic's management implied that it will eventually lower ticket prices dramatically. In discussions about the total addressable market, it pointed out that about 50,000 people have a net worth over $50 million and could reasonably afford a $500,000 ticket price, while 1.78 million people had a net worth of over $10 million and could pay $100,000 for a ticket. But management also pointed out that 5.07 million people had a net worth over $5 million and could pay for a $50,000 ticket.
This wasn't a projection of future ticket prices, but as flights increase in volume and the high capital cost of a spaceport and spacecraft can be spread over more flights, it's possible ticket costs come down dramatically.
If ticket prices go up in the short term, it could be an indication that there's more than enough demand at a higher price for limited supply. But don't be surprised if costs eventually come down and tickets become accessible to millions of people around the world.
A few minutes in a weightless environment may seem like an unnecessary and wasteful experience to some, but for wealthy thrill-seekers, it may be worth the price of admission. There's no shortage of yachts and private jets around the world and they don't even provide the unique thrill of being in space.
According to Virgin Galactic, fewer than 600 people have ever been to space, so it's an experience a limited number of people have ever had. Virgin Galactic could eventually put more than 600 people in space every year. And by the look of it, there's a large number of people who may be willing to pay $300,000 for the privilege of taking that exclusive flight.
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