Customer demand and market size estimates
The following subsections will examine customer demand from the context of:
- Product offering,
- Customer motivations,
- Customer experience,
- Customer adoption challenges,
- Total addressable market,
- Market size from 2001 to 2021,
- Current market demand as of the end of 2021,
- Market supply 2023,
- Market size 2022, and
- Market growth 2021 to 2022.
Space tourism businesses are currently offering a high end luxury experience (or an extreme-adventure experience depending on your point of view) that includes:
- Flight in a space vehicle to suborbital or orbital space
- A view of the earth from a high altitude that will allow customers to see the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space.
- A period of zero gravity inside a small enclosed space shared with other customers.
- The opportunity to refer to themself as an astronaut, e.g. social differentiation, status symbol.
- Ground-based activities including: pre-flight training, exclusive networking events, VIP access to the launch for their families, postflight celebrations and presentation of astronaut wings, media events, etc.
The ticket price for a flight into space is costly, starting at $450,000 for a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic and rising to over $50 million for an orbital flight on SpaceX or Roscosmos.
The article “An intro to space tourism preflight training in under five minutes!” provides a detailed look at the pre-flight training experience and the associated time demands on customers.
The article “The essential guide to what a space tourist can do in space” provides a comprehensive review of the types of activities available for customers to do.
So what would motivate someone to want to travel into space? Some insights into customer motivations are available from a 2018 study performed by the PEW Research Center, which identified the top three motivations for a customer to purchase a flight into space as:
- To experience something unique ( e.g. pioneering, exclusive, one of a kind)
- To see the view of Earth from space
- To learn more about the world
The PEW study also found that only 42% of Americans would be definitely or probably interested in going into space.
Customer adoption challenges
For someone who is financially qualified and is motivated to fly into space, what could prevent them from doing so? Well, quite a lot. As it turns out, customer adoption challenges currently include:
- Personal time commitment
- No orbital destination available
- Experience is unappealing relative to preconceived expectations
- Legally restricted
- Health disqualification
- Negative social differentiation
- Public perception
- Not considered pioneering or unique
- Media coverage makes all customers public figures
- Wait for better products
- Wait for opinion leaders
- Travel concerns
Space tourism marketing presents spaceflight as glamorous, pioneering and exciting. However what the marketing doesn’t mention is the risk associated with a spaceflight. Once customers are made aware of the risks, they may not be willing to accept the risk of death or serious injury.
In the commercial airline space the FAA provides regulation and oversight of the public’s safety including the aircraft and passengers. However, for space tourism flights the FAA does not regulate or provide oversight for the spacecraft or passenger safety. Their responsibility is to protect uninvolved parties on the ground from being injured or killed. Instead of regulation and oversight of space tourism passenger safety, the FAA relies upon informed consent.
Informed consent requires that all space tourism businesses make customers explicitly aware that the FAA has not certified the vehicle as being safe for human flights. The customers must also be made aware of the history of human spaceflight accidents, the safety history of the vehicle they will be flying in, and all associated known and potential risks. Customers must acknowledge in writing that they fly into space entirely at their own risk.
The article “SPACE TOURISM – Passengers fly at their own risk” provides more details on informed consent.
What is the risk of death? The following fatality rate information helps put the risk in context.
The in-flight astronaut fatality rate as of March 2021 was 1 death in 31 boardings or 3.2%.
For comparison, the in-flight passenger fatality rate for commercial airlines between 2008 and 2017 was 1 death in 7.9 million boardings or 0.000013%.
It is particularly worth noting that between 2010 and 2018, the fatality rate for Mount Everest climbers was 1 death in 111 summit attempts or 0.9%.
Space tourism customers will need to have a higher risk tolerance than a Mount Everest climber.
Personal time commitment
Moving on from risk, customers must commit to several days of personal time (e.g. travel, pre-flight training, ground based events, quarantine) in return for 10 to 90 minutes of total flight time for suborbital flights. For orbital flights, customers may need to commit several weeks to months of personal time in return for 3 days to weeks of total flight time. The time demands may be a barrier for customers based on their available leisure time and scheduling flexibility. For example, Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission has a training schedule that runs from May 2021 to February 2022.
No orbital destination available
Currently the only orbital destination that is open to space tourists is the ISS. NASA and Roscosmos have a limited number of private astronaut mission slots available per year. The alternative is to orbit the Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon with a special observation bubble attached to the nose of the space capsule as shown below (Source: SpaceX).
For orbital space tourism customers this may be problematic. They may not want to invest the time and money for an orbit inside a space capsule. Consequently they may decide to wait until such time as an orbital destination slot is available.
Experience is unappealing relative to preconceived expectations
Customers may find that the overall experience is unappealing relative to preconceived expectations versus the reality of such things as: scary takeoff and landing, claustrophobic and cramped quarters, lack of privacy, primitive toilet facilities on orbital flight vehicles, orbital space destination characteristics (i.e. orbiting while living inside a space capsule versus orbiting while living inside a space station), mundane activities available for them to do, things not always going as planned, and space motion sickness.
Things don’t always go as planned – during the first orbital space tourism flight by SpaceX, the toilet in the Crew Dragon malfunctioned; during the same flight, one of the four passengers suffered from space motion sickness for two days out of the three day flight. During Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight, the vehicle went off course on the descent flight path, potentially endangering commercial airlines and Virgin Galactic passengers. Launches have been delayed due to weather and equipment readiness; launch delays of days or weeks are a fact of life.
The incidence of space motion sickness among astronauts is high, with 60 to 80% of space travelers experiencing space motion sickness caused by zero gravity. Space motion sickness has many of the same symptoms as other forms of motion sickness, e.g. cold sweating, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, vomiting. Space motion sickness will spoil the experience for the afflicted customer as well as for that of the other customers. After all, who wants to be dodging floating vomit in zero gravity, or being stuck in a confined space engulfed in the smell of vomit, or spend most of their time in orbit being sick and unable to appreciate the experience.
Customers who are key employees of a business may be restricted by their employment contract from participating in risky extracurricular activities such as engaging in spaceflight. The death or injury of a business’ key employee can have a major impact on the ongoing operation of the business, and if it’s a public company can also have a dramatic impact on the stock price.
Customers can be disqualified (by the space tourism business or NASA) from flying due to one or more issues related to their: security risk; medical fitness (e.g. weight, mobility, vision, height, hearing, mental health (e.g. anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression), medical condition (e.g. heart disease, pregnancy, diabetes); ability to tolerate acceleration, air pressure changes and microgravity; and ability to perform safety procedures. For example, Daisuke Enomoto was scheduled to fly in 2006 but was disqualified by Roscosmos from flying due to a medical condition (kidney stones).
The FAA has not established any medical certification requirements for suborbital or orbital space tourism customers. Customers and space tourism businesses are expected to make their own judgment calls on medical fitness. The only exceptions are for trips to the ISS. NASA has medical requirements that all private astronauts and commercial crew must meet in order to be allowed to visit the ISS.
Physical fitness screening by SpaceX and Roscosmos is comprehensive for orbital flight because the experience is demanding. Moreover, since flights can last for a few days to a few weeks it is important to avoid sending anyone into orbit who might end up with a medical emergency due to a pre-existing health issue.
The physical fitness of potential viable customers may reduce the serviceable addressable market size for the orbital space tourism market segment. The average age of very high net worth individuals is 60.3 years. Ultra high net worth individuals are even older, with an average age of 64. Common conditions in older age which could disqualify customers include hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors affecting eyesight acuity, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis, depression, obesity, and diabetes.
Suborbital flight is short duration and not as physically demanding as orbital flight, so the physical fitness screening is much more relaxed. For example the medical clearance screening requirements for a Blue Origin suborbital flight include: able to climb up the launch tower in less than 90 seconds (approximately seven flights of stairs); able to walk quickly over uneven surfaces; able to fasten and unfasten their seatbelts in less than 15 seconds; hear and understand instructions in English and reliably follow them; able to sit in a seat for 40 to 90 minutes without getting up or having to go to the bathroom; able to sit in a confined capsule for 40 to 90 minutes with up to five other people; be between 5’0” 110 pounds and 6’4” 223 pounds; and able to tolerate up to 5.5 times of their normal body weight pushing them into their seat for a few seconds.
Negative social differentiation
Customers may find that the desired positive social differentiation they hope to achieve might in fact be a negative social differentiation. Customers referring to themselves as an astronaut, payload specialist, medical officer, mission commander, pilot, pioneer, explorer, etc – may be subject to ridicule.
Customers may not like the public perception of the product or space tourism business – as that perception might reflect upon them and companies that they are associated with. For example, customers may be stigmatized by public opinion which increasingly views space tourism as a frivolous activity for rich people who are indifferent to the many social issues here on earth. Space tourism is also increasingly viewed as being harmful for the environment.
Not considered pioneering or unique
One of the top three motivations for a customer to want to fly into space is to do something that very few people have done before them. At some point space tourism will no longer be considered pioneering or unique, and will become a barrier to adoption for some customers.
When will space tourism no longer be considered pioneering? Mount Everest can be used as an example.
Between 1953 and the end of 1992, 427 people had successfully summited Mount Everest. However things changed in 1993 – summiting Mount Everest stopped being pioneering when commercial guiding businesses came into being and made it possible for anybody with enough money to summit Mount Everest. Today it is possible to summit Mount Everest as part of a commercial expedition for an average cost of $45,000. As of 2020, 5,720 people have summited Mount Everest, including a double leg amputee, a blind woman, and a man with one arm.
7.5% of all the people who summited Mount Everest did so in the 40 years before commercialization. However, 92.5% of all the people who summited Mount Everest did so in the 28 years after commercial guiding businesses came into being.
It is also worth noting that the introduction of commercial guiding made climbing Mount Everest more accessible and consequently significantly increased demand to climb Mount Everest. The sustained demand created a multi million dollar market. As new commercial guiding businesses entered the growing market, the cost per climber continued to decline.
Media coverage makes all customers public figures
The corporate marketing of space tourism launches and associated media coverage makes all customers public figures overnight. Customer such as high net worth individuals may be adverse to such publicity.
Wait for better products
Customers may want to wait in expectation of better products.
Wait for opinion leaders
Customers may choose to wait for opinion leaders to evaluate the products and have the benefit of their insights and recommendations.
Language will be an issue
Language will be an issue for some customers whose native language is not English or Russian. Currently all space tourism operations are English-centric or Russian-centric.
Customers may not want to travel to Russia or Kazakhstan which would exclude Roscosmos from consideration. Customers may also be stopped from traveling due to government travel advisories. For example there is currently a no travel advisory for Kazakhstan.
Customers may not want to travel to the US which would exclude Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX.
Customer adoption challenges constrain the size of the serviceable addressable market and associated customer demand.
Total Addressable Market (TAM) size
So how big is the space tourism market size?
The ticket price is the fundamental customer adoption barrier and can be used to define market size.
For an orbital customer, the Space Tourism Market Study identified that the ticket price should be no more than 10% of the individual’s net worth for that individual to be considered a viable customer. For a suborbital customer, the ticket price should be no more than 1.5% the individual’s net worth.
The following table provides a breakdown of global high net worth individuals.
Looking deeper, the following table shows the wealth tiers within the ultra high net worth individual wealth band.
Using the above data tables and the 1.5% and 10% rule described earlier, we can identify the market sizes for the suborbital and orbital space tourism market segments.
Suborbital space tourism has tickets starting at $450,000. This means that the potential viable customers would be individuals worth $30 million or more, i.e. the ultra high net worth individual wealth band.
Orbital space tourism has tickets starting at $50 million. This means that the potential viable customers would be individuals worth $500 million or more, i.e. the top two wealth tiers of the ultra high net worth individual wealth band (2.6399% of 200,900).
The following table captures the resulting space tourism estimated market size.
All the potentially viable customers in the above table have the financial means to fly into space. The actual number of customers in a space tourism business’ serviceable addressable market depends upon the number of those individuals who are motivated to fly into space and who are not excluded by customer adoption challenges.
Market size from 2001 to 2021
What was the space tourism market size from 2001 to the end of December 2021? To answer this question, we can take a look at results from the space launch service providers over the last 20 years.
What’s happened until now…
Virgin Galactic has not flown any paying customers as of December 2021. Virgin Galactic was open for ticket sales between 2004 and 2014. During that period of time, they secured approximately 600 customers from 58 countries. Those customers collectively paid over $80 million in refundable deposits for future flights priced at $250,000. Virgin Galactic also have over 900 customers who have expressed an interest in future flights and who have collectively paid approximately $900,000 in refundable deposits in order to give them priority for a future booking. After Richard Branson’s flight, 60,000 people signed up on their website to request information on flying with Virgin Galactic.
In 2021, Virgin Galactic made changes to their pricing, flights now start at $450,000 per passenger. Virgin Galactic also restarted ticket sales in 2021 and secured an additional 100 customers for future flights at the new ticket price. Ticket prices are within reach of the very high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals.
Virgin Galactic is expected to begin commercial operations in 4Q 2022.
Virgin Galactic currently operates out of Spaceport America in New Mexico, with intentions to establish spaceports in Italy and Dubai.
Other notable Virgin Galactic customer related events include: Several celebrities have signed up for tickets, including: Leonard DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Tom Hanks, and Angelina Jolie. Ashton Kutcher, an actor and technology investor, returned his ticket to Virgin Galactic due to concerns over risk. Lady Gaga has been invited to perform on a future flight. Also, in 2011, William Shatner (actor, “Captain Kirk”) was offered the opportunity to fly to space by Richard Branson, but he declined. Shatner commented to reporters “He wanted me to go up and pay for it and I said: ‘Hey, you pay me and I’ll go up. I’ll risk my life for a large sum of money.’ But he didn’t take me up on my offer.”
Blue Origin has flown 8 paying customers as of December 2021, and has another 6 paying customers committed to fly in 2022, for a total estimated $392 million. In 2021, Blue Origin ran an auction for a seat on the first commercial launch of New Shepard. The auction winner ended up paying $28 million, which puts Blue Origin tickets within the reach of ultra high net worth individuals. In 2018 it leaked out that Blue Origin was planning to offer tickets for between $200,000 and $300,000 which would put tickets within reach of the very high net worth individuals and ultra high net worth individuals.
It is worth noting that the Blue Origin seat auction had 7,600 registered bidders from 159 different countries, which shows significant customer interest.
Blue Origin launches spaceflights out of a spaceport in Texas, with intentions to set up a spaceport in Dubai.
Other notable Blue Origin customer related events include: Tom Hanks (actor) recently disclosed that he was offered a flight by Jeff Bezos, but declined because of the high price of $28 million. William Shatner (actor) and Michael Strahan (TV personality) flew to space with Blue Origin in 2021 as guests of Jeff Bezos. In exchange for the free flights, Blue Origin received global media coverage and enthusiastic endorsements from the celebrities. And last but not least, Amazon Prime Video produced a documentary covering William Shatner’s spaceflight and it is currently streaming.
Roscosmos has flown 10 paying customers (including 1 American who flew twice) as of December 2021, for total estimated sales of $600 million. Flights are estimated to have cost between $50 and $60 million per passenger, which puts Roscosmos tickets within the reach of ultra high net worth individuals ($500+ million).
Roscosmos launches all human spaceflights out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Other notable Roscosmos customer related events include: Roscosmos flew Dennis Tito to the ISS in 2001, making him the first space tourist. Daisuke Enomoto was scheduled to fly in 2006 but was disqualified from flying due to a medical condition. Sarah Brightman was scheduled to fly in 2014 but canceled during training due to personal reasons. In 2021 Roscosmos flew a Russian film crew to ISS for production of a film. As an interesting sidenote, Guy Laliberte (the first Canadian space tourist) tried unsuccessfully to claim the $42 million ($53 million in 2021) cost of his 2009 trip with Roscosmos as a Cirque du Soleil business expense.
SpaceX has flown 4 paying customers and currently has another 4 paying customers that will launch in February 2022 – for total estimated sales of $440 million. Flights cost $55 million per passenger, which puts SpaceX tickets within the reach of ultra high net worth individuals ($500+ million).
SpaceX launches all human spaceflights out of Cape Canaveral and may be constrained by availability of launch slots.
Other notable SpaceX customer related events include: In 2020 NASA announced they were working with SpaceX and Tom Cruise to produce a movie on the ISS; no timeline was released. A Japanese billionaire has committed to paying for an around the moon flight with SpaceX. The moon flight is scheduled for 2023 and will include up to 12 passengers and crew; the flight cost was not disclosed. Space Adventures recently had to cancel a planned orbital trip using SpaceX when they were unable to find customers for that reservation. And last but not least, a Netflix miniseries covering the Inspiration4 mission was produced and is streaming now.
Adding it all up
The market size for suborbital and orbital space tourism from 2001 to 2021 (20 years) was 22 customers collectively paying up to an estimated $846 million. 2021 accounted for 64% of the customers and 67% of the estimated sales.
The following table summarizes the space tourism market size for 2001 to 2021.
The following table summarizes the space tourism market size for 2021.
Those that tried and failed
It is also worth noting some of the service providers who tried and failed in the last 20 years while attempting to enter the space tourism market: Mircorp, Bristol Spaceplanes; RocketShip Tours; PlanetSpace; Benson Space Company; Armadillo Aerospace; XCOR Aerospace; and EADS Astrium. The reasons three service providers failed:
- Armadillo Aerospace was founded by and largely self funded by John Carmack (ID software). He shut down the company because he was not happy with the speed of development, design decisions, and how the corporate culture had evolved since the company‘s founding.
- XCOR Aerospace filed for bankruptcy when it was unable to secure the necessary investment to continue development of their suborbital spacecraft.
- EADS Astrium was unable to secure the necessary investment to continue development of their suborbital spacecraft.
Current customer demand
So what does the current customer demand look like? Currently there are two datapoints for suborbital flights and one datapoint for orbital flights that can be used as firsthand indicators of current customer demand.
Blue Origin provides the most recent indicator of potential demand for suborbital flight. When they ran their auction in 2021, all auction bidders were required to register. Any auction bidder who wanted to bid more than $50,000 had to go through a qualification process that also required a $10,000 deposit.
Blue Origin has $200,000 as their low end ticket price and the auction result established $28 million as their high end price. The registered auction bidders represent a sales funnel of approximately 7,600 prequalified customers, delivering potential sales of up to $1.52 billion and as high as $212.8 billion. It is unlikely that a significant number of individuals will pay $28 million for a seat. The actual price will be somewhere in between the low and the high end of the ticket prices. For the purpose of estimation, a calculation for the low end and the high end ticket prices will be done.
Virgin Galactic has approximately 1,600 prequalified customers who have made deposits for a flight. These customers represent potential sales of up to $600 million.
In 2019, NASA opened up the ISS for private astronaut missions. NASA plans to allow up to 2 missions per year, with a maximum of 4 private astronauts per mission.
The ISS was originally scheduled to be retired on September 30, 2024. However, new US legislation is progressing forward which will specify that ISS be sustained by NASA at maximum utilization through at least September 30, 2030. It is not certain if ISS will be maintained in an operational state beyond that date; if not that might also impact the number of private astronaut mission slots available.
NASA’s first 2 private astronaut missions to ISS will occur in 2022. With 2 missions per year, and 2030 being the last operational year for ISS, there are 16 private astronaut mission slots available. Note that 16 mission slots is the maximum number of slots, the actual number may end up being less depending upon NASA priorities.
As of August 2021, NASA had received 7 proposals. The 7 proposals represent a potential demand of 28 customers delivering sales of up to $1.54 billion between 2022 and 2030.
The current customer demand will consume 44% of NASA private astronaut mission slots.
Based on the volume of interest in private astronaut missions to the ISS for tourism and entertainment NASA believes that space tourism will be the chief revenue generator for low earth orbit commercialization.
Roscosmos has not released any information on demand for private astronaut missions to the Russian ISS segments.
Based on the above datapoints, the estimated current market demand is summarized in the following table.
Note that it is not possible to determine if these indicators of current customer demand represent an annual demand or if they represent total demand. It is also uncertain if the numbers exclusively represent Innovators and Early Adopters, or if they are characteristic of broader market adoption.
Forward-looking ten-year demand forecasts could be prepared based upon the diffusion of innovations theory (e.g. using Bass Diffusion Model), but the space tourism market is too uncertain for such a forecast to be meaningful (except perhaps for raising investment). Moreover, relative to the orbital space tourism market segment, there is no need for a service provider to try and “crystal ball” a forecast. With 7,800 potential viable customers, prospective customers can be engaged directly to determine interest.
A big uncertainty at this point is if space tourism will “cross the chasm” between Early Adopters and Early Majority. What attracts Early Adopters to a product or service can be different than what attracts Early Majority customers.
Estimated market size 2022
While a 10 year forecast might not be of particular use, it is possible to estimate the market size in 2022. This is done using publicly available information and analysis of launch service providers ability to service customer demand (see the next section).
Virgin Galactic is planning to start commercial operations in 4Q 2022. It is expected they will launch at least one space tourism flight in each of October, November, and December.
Blue Origin is expected to launch at least four commercial flights in 2022. Based upon the auction bidding it is assumed that Blue Origin will be able to maintain a high price point in 2022. Calculations are made for both low and high end price points.
Roscosmos is not expected to launch any space tourism missions in 2022. Missions to orbit are usually announced in the preceding year.
Market growth between 2021 and 2022
The maximum estimated market growth between 2021 and 2022, is + 257% increase in private astronauts carried and + 98% increase in sales. The actual market growth will depend upon Blue Origin ticket prices which will be somewhere between $28 million and $200,000 per seat. It is unlikely that Blue Origin will be selling seats for as low as $200,000 in 2022.