Opinion Graphic fall 2020

In recent years, technology has been rapidly evolving, giving rise to new industries such as space tourism. As innovators create advanced aircraft, a trip to space could one day be a realistic travel option. Entrepreneurs at companies including Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are looking to capitalize on renewed public interest in space travel. These companies are backed by billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, who aim to offer people a chance to travel to space.

Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin is dedicated to advancing space travel “for the benefit of Earth,” according to Blue Origin. Companies are beginning to generate publicity for their flights using celebrities like former NFL star Michael Strahan, who will launch into space aboard a Blue Origin flight. That launch will be the first time all six seats on the rocket will be filled, and it will likely generate additional media coverage and interest in the company.

Bezos undertook a journey of his own in July when he and three others reached the outer limit of Earth’s atmosphere in the New Shepard launch vehicle. The event was highly anticipated as many debated the capabilities of Blue Origin’s aircraft. During the flight, the rocket flew about 62 miles to the internationally recognized boundary of space.

The New Shepard surpassed the distance reached earlier by competitor Richard Branson and his company Virgin Galactic. Some have doubts about Virgin Galactic’s ability to attract customers because of its low ticket sales and safety concerns.

Virgin Galactic halted ticket sales in the past but recently reopened reservations, and has sold around 700 tickets. With tickets costing close to $500,000, space travel is for the rich now, but as more flights sell in the future, the ticket prices might slowly drop.

Virgin Galactic is a publicly listed company and trades under the symbol SPCE. Earlier this year the stock surpassed $60 per share, showing investors are interested in space tourism. The price fell but surged again over the summer, indicating investors believe this fledgling business may become an established field in the future. The stock price has recently fallen because officials temporarily closed ticket sales in response to safety concerns, but should increase once commercial flights take place.

Musk’s SpaceX, which recently collaborated with NASA on a project meant to protect Earth from asteroids, is another company in the space technology mix. The company will launch a rocket into space to crash into an asteroid, testing the possibility of pushing one threatening Earth off course.

This work with NASA has helped establish SpaceX as a well-known company in the space field. That could translate into consumer trust of space tourism. The company already has the backing of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who will be the company’s first tourist on a flight planned for 2023.

While space travel sounds enticing to many as both a vacation option and an investment, there are many risks involved. One example is a fatal 2014 crash during a Virgin Galactic test flight. During the flight, the aircraft broke apart, scattering debris over a 5-mile radius in the Mojave Desert and killing one person. 

That incident serves as a reminder of the dangers of pioneering a new industry. To gain consumer confidence, Branson boarded a flight of his own and reached the edge of space in July. This has helped stave off people’s fears as they see a billionaire willing to risk his life betting on his company’s design.

Space travel is still a developing sector, but tickets are selling and new developments and test flights are happening each year. As the flights give people a chance to explore new heights and see the earth from above, the burgeoning industry represents an attractive but potentially volatile investment opportunity.

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