You may recall that a few years ago Futron Corporation published a demand forecast for orbital and suborbital space tourism that has been widely regarded in many quarters. [Full disclosure: Futron is my employer.] Yesterday Futron published a short white paper that slightly updates the results of the suborbital forecast, taking into accounts developments in the market since the forecast was originally published in 2002. [Fuller disclosure: I wrote the white paper.]
What’s different about the new forecast? A few things have changed. Back in 2002 it seemed like the earliest that suborbital tourist vehicles would enter revenue service was 2006, based on the publicly-reported progress of X Prize competitors and other companies, and the belief that whoever won the X Prize would keep their vehicle in service. Things have changed somewhat since then, and 2008 appears to be a more probable date that vehicles like SpaceShipTwo will enter revenue service; the forecast has been updated accordingly. In addition, back in 2002 the estimated ticket price for suborbital flights appeared to be about $100,000, based on what Space Adventures was charging; now $200,000 appears to be a more likely starting price. These tend to slightly depress the demand compared to the original forecast.
One other thing we looked at was fitness requirements. In the original study we used very conservative fitness requirements: above average for most people and excellent for elderly people. This was a combination of conservatism about the physical conditions passengers would have to endure the stresses of a flight, as well as the belief that many people tend to overestimate, rather than underestimate, their fitness levels. However, given that fitness requirements have not (so far) appeared to be a major constraint to suborbital space tourism operators, we examined what happened when we relaxed the fitness requirements on under-65 passengers to “average”. That considerably boosted the forecast numbers, to levels well above the original 2002 forecast. Whether that change is warranted, though, remains to be seen.
One thing should be noted: this white paper simply tweaks the forecast model, and uses the same Futron/Zogby data used in the 2002 survey. A lot of things have changed since that survey (back then, suborbital space tourism still seemed very much theoretical, and SpaceShipOne was still a secret Scaled Composites project). What is needed is a new survey to see how potential customer preferences, levels of interest, and other factors have changed in the last four years. Conducting such a survey is not an inexpensive proposition, though, so we’re still looking for potential partners to help make this happen.
One final note: while I wrote the white paper mentioned here, much of the space tourism research performed at Futron over the last several years was done by Janice Starzyk, a colleague who recently took a new position at ILS. Without her hard work on this project this paper would not have been possible.