Starchaser wants you… to fill out a survey

The Anglo-American space tourism venture Starchaser is asking people to full out a space tourism survey. The survey consists of a little over 30 questions that attempt to gauge interest in suborbital space tourism among potential customers. The survey, primarily multiple choice but with a few questions that have free-form answers (“Please list the training activities that you would expect space tourists to undertake”) on topics like cost, training, flight experience, and related issues. According to an article in the Las Cruces Sun-News, the survey is linked to the ESA award Starchaser received earlier this month, which requires the company “to analyze the sustainability of commercial space tourism”.

It’s always good to see new efforts to gauge the potential size of the space tourism market. However, there are a few issues with the survey. One problem is that some of the questions are a little too vague to be useful. An example is this:

How much would you be willing to pay for a sub-orbital trip into space?

  • Up to 3 months income
  • Up to 6 months income
  • Up to 1 years income
  • More than 1 years income
  • Not interested

The problem is that these figures are not defined; the survey does not ask the respondent to provide his/her income. Three months’ income for a minimum-wage worker is very different than three months’ income for a CEO, making it impossible to translate those estimates into dollar figures. If, hypothetically, a majority of respondents say that they would be willing to pay up to six months’ income for a trip, that provides no guidance to the company regarding what prices it should charge.

A bigger issue is the fact that this is a non-scientific survey: the sample will consist of people interested enough to seek out and take the survey, rather than a controlled sample. Worse, Starchaser is incentivizing potential respondents by offering them a chance to win an iPod if they complete the survey, potentially further skewing the sample pool to include those who take the survey solely to qualify to win the prize, giving little real thought to the questions. I can understand why they’re doing this—performing a more rigorous study would have cost Starchaser a significant fraction of the money they received from ESA—but in doing so they risk running afoul of the old programmer’s mantra: garbage in, garbage out.

3 comments to Starchaser wants you… to fill out a survey

  • As I am Starchaser’s mailing list, I have already filled this out. I’m a little less negative than you are. I would argue that a dollar (or pound) figure would be fairly meaningless, because many people will say they can spend a given amount, but when it comes time to write the actual check (cheque), they have second thoughts. A percentage of your income at least gives a relative value of how much you value such a flight. (As I recall, I entered six months: I would not be willing to put my house at risk, but I might use a substantial percentage of my savings.)

    I gladly filled it out even though I have no desire for an iPod since I have a Sirius satellite radio S-50 MP3 playor that I am very happy with. . . .

    — Donald

  • Which brings up the thought of why they are offering an iPod when they could offer an S-50 (or Sirius’ latest model or the XM equivallent) and help their own industry, helping to create a market for the later-generation products they hope to build.

    — Donald

  • Jeff Foust

    Donald: asking people who much they would be willing to pay as a fraction of their current salary may be a way to gauge levels of interest in such flight, it’s useless from an economic standpoint, especially when you don’t know how much money that 3 or 6 or 12 months’ salary is.

    As for the prize, keep in mind that Starchaser is still based in the UK, and XM and Sirius radios only work in the US and (I believe) Canada. An iPod, by comparison, will work effectively anywhere — including on a spacecraft.

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