It’ll cost you major tom, but travel by space is coming soon
Fly from London to New York (via space) in under half an hour? Sure thing, say Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos
Travellers with a ready source of money but a short supply of time could find themselves flying from one continent to another in a matter of minutes as soon as the end of the next decade, according to new claims. What’s more, these journeys could take passengers to the edge of space as they soar from New York to Shanghai, or London to Dubai.
These are suggested in a report by the Swiss bank UBS, which envisages enormous changes to the aviation industry in the next 10 years – including the “cannibalisation” of long-haul routes thanks to technology that will render the idea of flying for 15 hours even less appetising than it is now.
The catalyst is the space tourism industry which, although still in its early stages, is creating hardware that will leave conventional planes in its high-speed wake.
“While space tourism is still at a nascent phase, we think that as technology becomes proven, and the cost falls due to technology and competition, space tourism will become more mainstream,” said UBS analysts Jarrod Castle and Myles Walton – adding that “space tourism could be the stepping stone for the development of long-haul travel on Earth, serviced by space”.
The report points to pioneering firms SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, the brainchild of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and argues that their attempts to bring space tourism online will have trickle-down effects on mainstream air travel.
Use of “aircraft” designed to go to the higher reaches of the atmosphere could lead to flights between London and New York in as little as 29 minutes (rather than the current eight hours), between London and Hong Kong in 34 minutes (rather than 12 hours), and from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes (rather than 15 hours).
“There are a number of commercial space ventures [likely] to open up suborbital travel,” the report continues. “Although some might view the potential to use space to service the long-haul travel market as science fiction, we think ... there is a large market”.
In particular, the report identifies Space X’s Starship prototype, currently in development. This, it has been mooted, could carry up to 100 passengers, and would be able to fly from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes.
Widespread adoption of such hardware would see the market for conventional flights of longer than 10 hours “be cannibalised”, the report says – but adds that, as Starship is designed to carry up to 100 people, rather than the typical capacity of 525 on an Airbus A380, this process would not be immediate. “It is unlikely that a rocket will carry over 300 people anytime soon,” the report admits.
Those scanning the skies hopefully for the next era of air travel could be forgiven a snort of cynicism. Great leaps forward in space and aviation technology have been promised since the turn of the millennium. Virgin Galactic was founded as far back as 2004 and, by July 2008, was suggesting space flights could take place within 18 months.
However, the company announced a breakthrough on February 22 when its spaceplane VSS Unity carried two pilots (but also, crucially, Beth Moses, its first passenger) to 90km above the Earth’s surface, a height that might well be considered the edge of space.
Blue Origin managed a successful launch of its much-heralded New Shepard rocket in January, sending it up 106km from its base in Texas, before bringing it safely back down to Earth. The flight was uncrewed, but the company has touted the prospect of manned takeoffs later this year.
- © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)