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Space Adventures
The ultimate aim of private spaceship developers is to take passengers to the final frontier, as shown in this artist's conception.
By Senior space writer
updated 8/28/2006 4:17:17 PM ET 2006-08-28T20:17:17

A new survey is trying to get to the bottom of what public travelers long for and fancy from a journey into space.

The intent of the survey is help design better space tourism packages — be it zipping up to the edge of space on a suborbital spree, pulling up to a space hotel in Earth orbit, or looping around the moon.

Also, the study is crafted to pulse a prospective space traveler’s view of safety, risk and bravery required for a person to buckle up for blastoff.

The questions — tagged The Adventurers’ Survey — represent a joint undertaking by Derek Webber, director of Spaceport Associates in Bethesda, Md., and Jane Reifert, president of Incredible Adventures, headquartered in Sarasota, Fla.

It has been four years since Webber directed another effort to poll public attitudes regarding space tourism — the Futron/Zogby Survey.

Futron, a Bethesda-based decision support consulting firm, published a space tourism market study in 2002, based on a Zogby International poll of affluent Americans commissioned by Futron. The poll judged the level of interest in, and willingness to pay for, space tourism experiences among those people with the means to plunk down cash for such flights. Futron used the poll results to produce a 20-year forecast for consumer demand for orbital and suborbital space tourism flights.

Highlights of that market study included these findings:

  • The overall space tourism market is very promising, and could generate revenues in excess of $1 billion per year by 2021.
  • Suborbital space tourism will generate the largest demand, with the potential for 15,000 passengers and $700 million in revenues per year by 2021.
  • Orbital space tourism, while growing more slowly than its suborbital counterpart, will still have up to 60 passengers and $300 million in revenues per year by 2021.
  • Those interested in suborbital space tourism are demographically distinct from those interested in orbital tourism.

Fun, money and risk
Why another space tourism survey?

“Public perceptions have probably changed since 2002 … so it’s about time! I want to check that the original findings are still valid,” Webber told Space.com. And given what the public has seen from the suborbital flights of SpaceShipOne, the rise of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, as well as the expandable vision of Robert Bigelow’s orbiting space module concept, the timing is good, he said.

The hope is that survey findings will be of immediate help to the industry in designing the first space tourism packages, Webber said.

“As we get closer to liftoff of this new industry sector, space adventure planners and investors are facing some important choices and they are probably getting a little nervous,” Webber said. “A successful business plan in this industry needs to faithfully reflect how the future public space traveler weighs fun, money and risk.”

Market perceptions
The survey of space adventurers is keen on looking for answers to five questions:

  • Is there still an untapped market interest for personal space travel adventures?
  • How does the general interest translate into various specific options and prices on offer — and the range of options that now includes lunar trips?
  • What preferences, if any, does the public have for various architectural design options for the space vehicle being developed for the venture?
  • What are the public attitudes, and price sensitivities, to various elements of the space adventure packages being offered — like duration, spacewalks, hotels, spaceports, training packages?
  • Who are the likely travelers, and how do they view risk?

“When we have analyzed the responses, we’ll get some good insight into all of these,” Webber added. “But this doesn’t mean, of course, that the work will then be done,” he cautioned.

There’s always need to monitor market perceptions, especially for a totally new business area, Webber added. “Any good consultant worth his or her salt will tell you that!”

Customers of the future
Incredible Adventures’ Reifert said that, in a way, the company has been informally surveying its customers since the early 1990s — when the group first began offering high-altitude flights, zero-gravity adventures and hands-on cosmonaut training in Russia. 

Slideshow: Month in space: Future frontiers “As a matter of routine, customers receive a ‘report card’ upon return home, asking them to evaluate the programs and offer comments and suggestions. This information is then used internally to improve our existing programs and create new adventures,” Reifert said.

By teaming up with Webber, the surveying of customers and Web site visitors is being taken to a new level, Reifert told Space.com. But settling on a list of questions proved to be not an easy task, she said.

“I wanted to get answers to the questions I’m routinely asked by people within the space industry,” Reifert continued, “about customers of the future.”

Reifert said that her experiences in selling space-related programs has provided a foundation for who she thinks those customers will be and what they will want. “But I’m the first to admit … I could be wrong. The results of this survey will say a lot.”

Space speak 101
A concern is that the survey questions be presented as clearly as possible.

There’s a tendency within the space community to assume everyone “speaks space,” Reifert asserted. For example, she’s not convinced everyone knows the difference between suborbital and orbital flights. The new survey provides clear definitions and photos, so those tallying up survey output can have confidence in the choices participants make.

“We’ve seen customer wishes and expectations change over the years as they become more knowledgeable about our products. In the early years, they just wanted to break the sound barrier. They didn’t particularly care what jet they did it in. Now, customers understand the differences in aircraft better and thus have clear ideas of what they want and do not want,” Reifert said.

One item of note about the survey is that it is open for participation around the world, “since space isn’t just a U.S. thing,” Reifert pointed out. Furthermore, the survey isn’t limited to gauging just adult interests.

“We think knowing what youth think and want when it comes to space travel is important to future plans,” Reifert noted. In addition, the survey is not focused on people of a specific income level, she said.

To take a look at the survey, go to this Web page: http://www.incredible-adventures.com/space-survey/index.html.

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