SpaceX takes the lead in space tourism

SpaceX starts again.

A year ago – to the day, if not exactly to the day – Elon Musk’s pioneering satellite launch company announced plans to venture into space tourism as well. Announcing its arrival with a Super Bowl ad for “Inspiration4,” SpaceX described how it would launch the first-ever privately crewed space mission, with Shift4 Payments (NYSE: FOUR) CEO Jared Isaacman piloting a Falcon 9 rocket and a Crew Dragon spacecraft during what turned out to be a three-day jaunt in space and around Earth.

One year later, The Washington Post reports that Isaacman has just booked three more flights with SpaceX – two more Falcon 9/Crew Dragon combos, followed by a private crew mission that will take SpaceX’s new ship for a turn.

Image source: SpaceX.

Introducing Polaris Dawn

Isaacman calls these three missions the “Polaris Project,and named the first mission “Polaris Dawn,” planning to fly it higher than any previous manned space launch since the Apollo program that sent astronauts to the moon. During “up to five days in orbit” , Polaris Dawn will include one or more spacewalks. Two engineers from SpaceX and the former mission director of Inspiration4 will join Isaacman on this flight, and the target date is set for the fourth quarter of 2022 or later.

The second mission does not yet have a set route. The third will be Starship’s first flight with a crew on board.

How much does it cost to rent a spaceship? Or three?

SpaceX has not disclosed what it will charge Isaacman for any of the flights. However, the To post suggested it could cost “several hundred million dollars” in total, noting that Inspiration4 cost “less than $200 million”.

During a conference call with the media, Isaacman admitted that the cost of Polaris would be partially covered by “a contribution from … SpaceX”. This makes sense for several reasons.

First, one of Polaris’ goals will be to test laser communication links between spacecraft and SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellite constellation to confirm that the system can be used for interplanetary communication (for example, between Earth and Earth). spacecraft traveling to Mars).

Second, planned Isaacman spacewalks will give SpaceX a chance to test new extravehicular spacesuits, as well as demonstrate astronauts’ ability to exit and re-enter a Crew Dragon spacecraft that doesn’t have a sas. It’s also a valuable experiment that SpaceX should be willing to subsidize.

Third, Isaacman hopes to “advance long-duration human spaceflight capabilities” through Project Polaris flights, “toward the ultimate goal of facilitating Mars exploration.” Mars is of course an idea dear to Elon Musk. So again, it makes sense that SpaceX would pay some of the cost.

Fourth, by expanding its experience of crewed spaceflight non-NASA astronautsSpaceX is building a whole new business by space tourism. As such, it makes sense that the company would be willing to bear at least some of the cost of testing this concept.

What does the Polaris project mean for investors?

It is this fourth objective of the Polaris project that should interest investors the most. Here’s why.

In his recent hour-long presentation on Starship progress, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk observed that “based on a marginal launch cost [that] not counting fixed costs,” Starship could cost “as little as…a million dollars per flight.” But even after factoring in fixed costs, he said, “I’m very confident [the cost] would be less than $10 million all in.”

SpaceX says a human-rated Starship could carry up to 100 passengers on board (instead of 100-150 tons of cargo). Divide a total launch cost of $10 million by 100 potential tourists buying tickets, and you arrive at a potential cost of $100,000 for Starship to carry tourists into tourist orbits around the Earth, trips to the moon and return, or visits to the international station area (or other stations to be built).

Granted, Musk admits that Starship needs to launch frequently and spread its fixed costs over many, many launches to bring its prices down to that level because “the more launches, the lower the total cost per flight would be.” He also noted that Starship is at least “two or three years away” from being able to establish that kind of launch cadence.

But if and when Starship reaches that point, $10 million per flight or $100,000 per ticket is “incredibly low numbers by space standards,” Musk says, and “ridiculously good compared” to what any other company is. able to charge. They’re especially ridiculously good compared to the $450,000 that Galactic Virgo (NYSE: SPCE) tasks people with experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness during suborbital journeys aboard his space plane – and probably much cheaper than what Blue Origin charges for 10-minute suborbital trips aboard its New Glenn rocket.

If SpaceX can offer space tourism flights that last hours or days, for less money than Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin charge for flights measured in minutes, SpaceX will easily dominate the new space tourism market and create a whole new source of income with which to fund his Mars colonization ambitions.

If Starship works, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin should be shaking in their space boots.

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Rich Smith has no position in the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Shift4 Payments, Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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