Earlier this month, British billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson successfully flew to outer space and created his brand. Virgin Galactic, To the edge of the outer hemisphere.This week, his fellow billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos brought his own Blue origin spacecraft Rotated to the outer limit and managed to be a full 10 miles (16 kilometers) higher than Sir Richard.
These journeys are hailed as marking a new era of “space tourism” in which untrained people can become astronauts. This title was previously reserved for trained professional scientists and pilots who can see the earth. Curvature and enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness. Ideal for Instagram viral photos made for millions of fans.
But can the idea of ??space tourism be more than just a high-priced drive for the rich?
The idea of ??going into space has fascinated mankind for thousands of years. Humans have regarded the stars as a navigation tool and a source of spiritual satisfaction. Even now, the study Research from the Pew Research Center, an American think tank, shows that 29% of Americans believe in horoscopes.
In the 20th century, with the advancement of scientific discoveries, space travel became a symbol of political and ideological prestige, competing with the superpowers of that era, the United States and the former Soviet Union. Space supremacy.
Both parties have invested billions of dollars in a series of space programs that created new rockets, satellites, and most notably, allowing humans to reach the surface of the moon. It also launched a series of inventions that were commercialized for wider applications, such as scratch-resistant lenses for spectacles, memory foam, and LASIK eye surgery.
Now, as the Cold War has long ended, the political pressure to promote state-sponsored space programs has waned. After the global financial crisis in 2007 paralyzed government budgets, governments are even more reluctant to spend. As a result, there is a gap in the private sector. Enter the field.
For Branson, this month’s adventure is the culmination of a long-term dream of space tourism. He made his first commitment to build a spaceship in 2004, hoping to start providing commercial services in 2007. The plan faced years of delays due to unsurprisingly having to deal with huge technical challenges, including a fatal accident during the development flight in 2014. The current pandemic has also made things more difficult, forcing Branson to sell $650 million worth of Virgin Galactic stock in the past two years to support his broader Virgin business empire.
However, despite the delay, Virgin Galactic successfully completed its exploration and thus promoted the development of space science. It developed a unique flight path. Before Unity was released, a “mothership” carried the main aircraft VSS Unity, rose 15 kilometers (9 miles) in the air, and then activated its rocket to fly another 70 kilometers above the surface (43 Miles) Earth, reaching the edge of space. Then Unity re-enters the earth’s atmosphere through its rotating wings-a technique called feathering-without the need for a parachute to smoothly slide back to earth. This means that there is no need to discard any parts, making it completely reusable, and the plane lands at the same location in the New Mexico spaceport, allowing space tourists to get on and off the car without worry, just like in a commercial flight.
Similarly, Bezos’ Blue Origin, which flies higher than its main competitor, Virgin Galactic, also uses advanced science and technology and a fully automatic two-part rocket system, which does not require a pilot at all. The launcher equipped with the rocket engine and propellant separates after launch and flies back to the launch pad by itself, while the top of the spacecraft-the crew compartment-uses a parachute to land safely. It is also equipped with a crew ejection system to increase safety in the event of problems with any part of the launch. Thankfully, there is no need to do this this time.
After years of research and development and sustained losses, the two companies are now finally ready to make money. According to reports, 8,000 people have booked Virgin Galactic flights, each costing at least US$250,000. Presumably, Blue Origin’s ticket prices are similar. Approximately 7,600 people have a lot of spare money, have registered to participate in this week’s flight ticket auction, the winner paid 28 million US dollars, which shows that demand will also be strong, at least from the super rich. In fact, analysts at the investment bank Bank of America estimate that the total value of the aerospace industry will surge from US$350 billion to US$2.7 trillion by 2040.
However, before we get too excited, we must point out what it is. This is a super-rich entertainment business, supported by a strong public relations business.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are suborbital space vehicles. They are not flying high enough to orbit the earth, so they are in a completely different category from NASA or SpaceX founded by Elon Musk, another very successful billionaire entrepreneur. The latter has become NASA’s first choice. The launch vehicle can provide a replenishment space station for the International Aeronautics and Space Administration or the deployment of new satellites.
Virgin Galactic has confirmed this and recently replaced its first CEO, former NASA Chief of Staff George Whitesides, who led most of the research and development phase of Virgin Galactic, Michael Colgrazi He has no background in space and was the head of Disneyland.
The new space tourism company refers to these rides as “bringing space to the masses.” It is true that before that, if you want to fly as a space tourist, you have to mediate with the Russians and buy a seat in a Soviet-era Soyuz-class spacecraft for $25 million, just like what seven people did in 2001. Year 2009.
But the ticket prices for Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights will still be sky-high, which makes this statement absurd. There is no doubt that seeing the curvature of the earth may be a life-changing experience, but who are we really inspired here? Emerging scientist or billionaire’s child? At the same time, despite the relatively high energy efficiency of these new spacecraft compared to the old space rockets, they still burn a lot of fuel to move up and down in the atmosphere-which is hardly in line with the spirit of tackling climate change.
Maybe it’s okay. After all, compared with state-sponsored projects, the political cover of private companies is that they don’t—openly—spend taxpayers’ money. Virgin Galactic obtains funds from Virgin Group, Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund, Aabar Investment Group and Boeing Company, and is publicly traded on the New York stock market. Blue Origin’s funding comes from the sale of Amazon stock.
In contrast, NASA’s Apollo program (to send humans to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s) and the most recent space shuttle program (retired in 2011) cost US taxpayers today’s $415 billion.
Private aerospace companies comply with market forces and compete with each other in new markets. The self-competition also started, and Bezos laughed at Branson and said that his ship could fly higher.
This is good. Given that launch failures can lead to a fatal loss of confidence in potential customers, competition will drive creativity, efficiency, and the development of new safety procedures. Entrepreneurs with a high degree of initiative and charisma become the spokesperson of a private aerospace company, which also gives it a sense of inspiring the entire aerospace field.
However, this obscures the reality that these companies still benefit from an industry funded by taxpayer support. For example, the New Mexico state government invested nearly $200 million in Spaceport America facilities, with Virgin Galactic as the main tenant. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man who founded Amazon, runs a multinational technology company that pays very little tax.
For example, in Europe, Amazon’s sales in 2020 reached a record 44 billion euros (51.9 billion U.S. dollars), but the tax declaration indicated that it did not pay any corporate taxes in Luxembourg, where it filed tax documents. Although Bezos generously thanked Amazon workers for helping him realize his dream of going into space, warehouse workers with an hourly salary of only $15 may want to know these profits-net income of $8 billion in the previous quarter, a record high- -Is it possible to reinvest in other places better?
Although it is a little daunting that the rich can now call themselves “astronauts”, which undoubtedly attracted attention among actual professionally trained astronauts, we should not underestimate the science behind safe flight in such a harsh environment. . Normalizing space travel can provide opportunities. As Virgin Galactic plans to achieve near-daily flights in the future, these suborbital journeys will provide a new platform for science, such as providing a relatively easy way to test in a microgravity environment. Blue Origin is also developing a larger rocket, called New Glen, which is eager to compete with SpaceX for longer space flights and Blue Moon, and cooperate with NASA to build a lunar lander.
Cynics may despair of the waste of money, because there are many other pressing issues on the planet that need to be dealt with, such as human poverty. However, perhaps space travel is a way of capturing imagination and a symbol of human progress. Perhaps, as improvements continue and economies of scale further reduce costs, space flight may indeed become available to everyone. Space flight has changed the way people view our precious earth and provided a new way to promote scientific development. This leads to new inventions that benefit all mankind. One can only wonder.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.