🛩 How SpaceX will become a space airline
Ready to go to space? It could happen sooner than you think.
Ready to go to space? It could happen sooner than you think. It’s all in this subscriber-only edition of Musk Reads+ #99.
David Anderman served as SpaceX’s general counsel from July 2019 to December 2020, during which time SpaceX flew its first crewed mission. He is now advising the producers of the reality TV show Space Hero, which plans to send one lucky winner to space (see Musk Reads+ #61).
In short, he is working to open up space to more people than ever — and thanks to the Starship, SpaceX could find itself working more like an airline. That’s also going to mean regulations will have to catch up.
Commercial spaceflight is opening
Anderman spoke to Inverse on the day SpaceX launched the Inspiration4 mission. The company described it as the first all-civilian mission to orbit.
Although the accolade is a point of contention — Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, claimed there were 15 such flights before Inspiration4 — the video footage of the four novices in space made for a powerful image.
“What's amazing is we've gotten to the point in the space industry where a regular person with enough resources today can purchase a mission,” Anderman tells Inverse. (The price tag is still currently in the several million dollar range.)
Part of what’s helped with this is the rapid reduction in the cost of spaceflight. This is evident with the gradual drop in satellite prices:
In 2016, SpaceX listed the cost of a Falcon 9-powered satellite launch on its website as $62 million
By 2020, evidence from The Motley Fool showed launch prices may have dropped to $36 million
For satellite operators happy to share a flight with other payloads, SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program can fly tiny satellites for just $1 million
“The types of rapid decrease in cost that you're seeing in the launch business for satellites — you're going to see a similar thing happen with respect to human spaceflight over the next few years,” he says.
It is unclear exactly how much the Inspiration4 flight cost, but organizer Jared Isaacman pledged to raise $200 million for the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital as part of the mission. Isaacman personally pledged half of the money.
Isaacman, the billionaire founder of Shift4 Payments, may not seem like an example of spaceflight opening to regular people. But Anderman argues that the cost of spaceflight will drop “a few more orders of magnitude over the next few years.”
“In the future, it'll be like buying an airplane ticket,” he says.
SpaceX will also improve access through automation. The Crew Dragon capsule is designed to maneuver autonomously, which means amateurs can ride in the capsule. The Inspiration4 underwent training ahead of the mission, including a 30-hour simulation, but the touchscreen controls remained unused throughout the final mission.