by Marcel F. Williams
First of all, I applaud the Obama administration budget for providing $1.2 billion in annual funds over the next 5 years for the development of private commercial manned access to low Earth orbit. If humans are to truly open up the New Frontier for human colonization and commerce, private industry is going to have to have the capability of transporting humans into orbit. Hopefully, such a measure will be extended for at least a decade so that several new rocket vehicle options will be developed.
However, I strongly disagree with the notion the NASA should move out of LEO and leave that solely to private industry. Why should NASA should have to resort to a private middleman in order to access a government funded space station for government employed astronauts?
And trying to use the ISS in order to sustain multiple private space launch companies would be a foolish venture. We need a strong government funded manned space program because these are the essential space pioneers that will help pave the way for the privateers and future settlers of the New Frontier.
But the real money for these emerging private American manned spaceflight companies is not in NASA contracts but in-- space tourism and commercial satellite launches where they're going to face some stiff international competition from companies like Russia's Energia.
There have already been eight space tourist to the ISS via Energia. And these individuals have payed between $20 to $35 million to to fly into space. Polls have shown that 7% of wealthy individuals in America would be willing to pay more than $20 million for a trip to a space station (93% would apparently not be willing to do so). There are nearly 100,000 adults in the world worth more than $30 million. So if 7% of these individuals were willing to dish out the big bucks to fly into to space, that would mean 7000 potential passengers willing to pay $20 million for a flight into space. If only 10% of these individuals flew into space each year aboard a vessel with 4 passenger seats, that would mean at least 175 flights per year. NASA flew just 5 flights in 2009 and 9 flights at the height of the Space Shuttle's glory years.
But what about the average Jane and Joe who does have tens of millions of bucks to just throw away? A 2008 ABC poll indicated that 40% of Americans would jump at the chance to fly into space.
What if NASA gave the average American and folks around the world that option by setting up a national and international space lotto system? Adult Americans and non-Americans could simply purchase $1 dollar space lotto tickets online at the NASA website for a chance to fly aboard an American private space launch vehicle to an American space station or, eventually, to an American base on the Moon. Obviously, the cost of astronaut training would have to be included.
Additionally, under my scenario, each winner would also receive $200,000 in prize money to compensate for the winners time off from work for astronaut training-- or if the winner decides to back out of flying into space out of fear-- or if it turns out that an individual is simply not qualified to fly into space. The $1 dollar purchase price would make this lotto affordable to practically every one on Earth. And the $200,000 cash prize money would also make this lotto especially attractive to people in third world countries.
If we assume that for a total population of 1000 people, at least 300 $1 tickets would be sold every year (with some individuals buying multiple tickets, some individuals buying just one, and some individuals purchasing no tickets at all) , that could mean over $100 million dollars in annual ticket sales in the US-- enough for perhaps 4 or 5 American passengers per year that could finance perhaps one flight per year aboard a private commercial launch vehicle. For the rest of the world, however, $2 billion worth of tickets could be sold annually equating to perhaps 20 manned spaceflights per year.
However, once several American companies have achieved manned spaceflight capability, I'd use the $1.2 billion a year that NASA uses to help develop private manned space launch capability by adding these funds to the American Space lotto system. That could mean at least 48 additional average Americans flying into space every year with perhaps 12 additional manned space flights per year. So a space lotto system alone could mean more than 30 manned space launches on an annual basis.
Hundreds of manned space launches every year would have a dramatic effect on the cost of space travel. Space rockets are expensive because the total demand for them is very low. And this is exacerbated by the fact that there are multiple types of space craft utilized for a relatively limited amount of manned and unmanned spaceflights. However, if American space companies can settle on perhaps two or three types of space craft and launchers for delivering humans, satellites, and cargo into orbit then dozens or perhaps even hundreds of a particular type of manned space craft could be manufactured by a factory or factories. And this could allow space craft building companies to finally move away from economies of craft to economies of mass production for space craft and space craft components- especially the highly expensive rocket engines. This could potentially dramatically lower the cost of space craft and correspondingly lower the cost of passenger flights into space. This could ignite an economic feed back process that could increase passenger volume thus increasing the demand for rockets and further lowering prices.
Space tourism for the wealthy has already begun. But even though private companies in the US do not currently have their 'people shuttles' in operation, there's no reason why NASA can't kick off a space lotto system right now to get people acclimated to the system. Suborbital tourism is thought to be only a few years away with an initial cost of $200,000 per passenger. Companies like Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic, Starchaser, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Limited, the European "Project Enterprise" are all striving to offer commercial suborbital flights . Companies like Zero G company are already offering parabolic flights for brief zero G experiences, starting at $4,950 per person.
A space lotto system could immediately offer winners a monetary award ranging from $10,000 up to $200,000 plus a ticket for a parabolic flight and could be an immediate job creating boon for this industry all over the US. Once suborbital flights become available, then tickets for these flights could be added as part of the winning prizes. Tickets for orbital flights to new American space stations would be added once private industry has their manned space operations up and running. And finally, winning tickets to an American or private Moon base could be added as the ultimate prize for space lotto winners.
A NASA space lotto system could be the best way to help develop the private manned space launch industry. And such a system to enhance the commerce of space tourism which could eventually lead to the first wave of privateers and permanent colonist in the New Frontier.