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D Webber, 2003, "Public Space Markets - What We Know and What We Don't Know", STAIF 2003 Albuquerque.
Also downloadable from space markets what we know and what we dont know.shtml

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Public Space Markets - What We Know And What We Don't Know
Derek Webber
The paper provides some background to a comprehensive survey of public space travel that was conducted amongst wealthy Americans by Futron Corporation and Zogby International. Discussions will include methodology and the level of confidence in the findings. The author will identify areas where there is more uncertainty and which might, therefore, provide a useful focus for further research.

Futron Corporation subcontracted a survey task to Zogby International to explore the demand for public space travel. The requirements placed on Zogby were not easy to satisfy, but the work was completed and the resulting Futron/Zogby survey and associated demand forecast has become a very reliable source for demand data in this field. The paper looks at some generic requirements for a successful survey, then it addresses how these points were taken into account for the Futron/Zogby demand survey, with an example of the kinds of results achieved. Finally the paper looks at Public Space Travel in the wider context of demand forecasting for launch vehicles in general, as reflected by the recently completed ASCENT Study, and suggests some areas of public space travel market data that is still not fully explored.

Generic Requirements of Market Forecasting

No matter what kind of market is being forecasted, there are some common threads that need to be understood.

A very important, and non-trivial element, is the decision about how to segment the market, and subsequently how to estimate the numbers. The essence of segmentation is to decide who is the customer for a given product and service, and then to explore if there are any subsets of the customers that share some common characteristics related to the product or service. If they do not differ from the other segments, then there is probably little point in the segmentation. The market sub-segments must have as nearly as possible an homogeneous response to the product offerings. The segmentation itself may be based on some demographic breakdown, or other basis. It is important, however, to select a basis that will facilitate forecasting of the numbers of customers in each segment.

The next group of indicators is needed in determining demand. For any given product or service, it is necessary to know the start date and the factors that contribute to market growth, and those that militate against growth. Factors such as economics, competition, regulatory issues and likely marketing focus and investment are important. Also important is an estimate of the time period for the market to reach saturation at any given price level. All of these parameters have a bearing on the available market size, at any given price. Of course, it is important to assess the size over a working range of prices. For a product or service that already exists, then a second order set of parameters may be researched, which explore customer choices between alternatives.

The Futron/Zogby Survey into Public Space Travel Demand

Zogby International were the winners of an internal RFP process that responded to a statement of work for the survey. The starting point for the Futron/Zogby survey was an evaluation of all former studies. No survey is perfect, of course, and all must be viewed within the constraints of time and money under which they were performed, and indeed the purposes for which they were performed. In the case of the Futron work, it was intended to use the results to produce highly credible forecasts that would be good enough to support financing proposals to venture capital companies. So the planners of the survey had that thought in their mind in putting together the steps of the process and the questions asked of the respondents. Will these results be bankable?

The most obvious criterion that was missing from earlier studies was to focus on people who had at least some chance of being able to afford the product/service on offer. Futron/Zogby interviewed a sample of millionaires. A +/- 4.7% sampling error was possible by conducting 450 interviews. Money was the ONLY qualifying question. The survey was limited to the US (through lack of funds!), but it was quickly determined that there were enough potential US takers to make this simplifying assumption today. And within the US, care was taken to get a good geographic spread.

The next important decision was to decide on two very simple missions for evaluation purposes. Early drafts of the study had more missions, but it was not considered possible to get credible results if the questionnaire was too diverse. The study homed in on a single sub-orbital flight of 15 minutes, at around $100K, and an orbital flight of 2 weeks including a stay on the ISS, assumed to cost around $20m. The surveys were conducted by telephone (again a matter of cost; face to face would have been better). The questionnaire was refined until it could be conducted within 30 minutes. The descriptions of the two missions were very carefully crafted to ensure realism, as opposed to fantasy (as had been the case with some earlier surveys). A Space Shuttle Commander vetted the scripts to ensure that this took place. In fact, the survey compared the results before and after the injection of this realism into the mix, and there was a distinct drop-off in takers!

Spread throughout the survey script was a wide range of questions that enabled subsequent cross- checking of responses for realism. Questions were included about risk, for instance, and the perception of the respondent about the degree of risk of the public space travel proposition compared to other activities. And then another set of questions explored whether the respondent had ever undertaken risky ventures in the past. Another set of crosschecks involved the willingness of respondents to spend large sums of disposable income on single items, such as vacations and other alternatives put before them. Because of the training time for current Soyuz missions, questions were asked about time available to undertake training. And these answers were crosschecked against the answers to questions about previous long duration activities respondents had undertaken. Questions were asked about their reasons for wanting to undergo public space travel (so that those who were wishing to be pioneers could be removed from the forecast pool after the business would become routine). Other questions were included about health (since millionaires tend to be towards the older end of the demographics, and some missions would therefore be too stressful for some potential respondents). Finally a full price range was explored around the real prices to explore price elasticity of demand.

Of course the statistics are only applicable at the level of the full sample, and each subsequent slice of the respondents will be less valid statistically, but because of the crosschecks, there is nevertheless high confidence in the findings. For sub-orbital missions, 12% of respondents, when fully informed, indicated they are likely to try a sub-orbital flight, knowing that the price would be about $100K. They knew that there were other specific ways to spend that amount of money, and 56%, for example, said they would much rather simply invest that money. Futron used this response, in conjunction with many other cross-correlations, to produce a forecast of demand of 15,000 sub-orbital flights a year by 2020. For orbital missions, 7% were willing to spend the assumed price of $20m (45% said they would rather invest it, 22% would spend it on a home). Futron took into account that the pool of people able to spend $20m was rather small, yet after cross-tabulation work still produced a forecast of up to 60 travelers per year by 2020 for these missions.

Public Space Travel in the ASCENT Study

The recently completed ASCENT Study of launch vehicle market forecasts produced an outcome where around 70 launches a year globally were likely until 2020. The ASCENT Study looked only at orbital missions. Of these, the new public space travel sector begins to contribute a significant amount of the demand by the end of the period, even at the assumed $20M price ticket per passenger. Around 15% of the demand comes from public space travel, and furthermore the percentage increases rapidly with price reductions in launches. Most of the traditional market sectors, such as broadcasting and telecommunications satellites, show very little responsiveness to reductions in launch prices (due to the gearing factor of multiple layers of vertical markets that separate the end user from the launch event). Furthermore, these results assume that only Soyuz missions provide the service. If multiple public space travelers could be accommodated on the Space Shuttle, or Orbital Space Plane, then the unit price would come down and the demand would increase.

Areas for Further Work

There are many possible further areas for research. The Futron/Zogby survey looked only at US respondents; there may be regional variations. There could be some useful work on terrestrial alternatives to space flight, such as Zero-G flights, and Virtual Reality experiences. Even public space travel itself contains some sectors that were not adequately covered in previous surveys, such as corporate travel, game show prizes, lotteries, etc. What is the role of family? What arrangements need to be introduced to respond to their needs, while a traveler is undergoing training for a space flight? How will the design of individual vehicles influence passenger choice? Does the public space traveler prefer to take off and land horizontally, from land or water? What kinds of organized activities are needed for long duration missions of public space travelers, and how do they affect demand, and how would they modify pricing decisions?


This paper, although brief, has attempted to provide some context for those whose interest is in building business cases for the new public space travel ventures. The Futron/Zogby survey has produced very credible results that can be used in building business cases, and the paper lists some other areas where data is still inadequate, and which will eventually need to be determined. Finally, the public space travel sector is seen to be an important coming sector with implications for the whole of the US aerospace industry. It represents a growth opportunity amid a sea of rather flat forecasts that emerged from the NASA MSFC ASCENT Study.

  1. Futron Corporation, 31 January 2003, "ASCENT Study Final Report"
D Webber, 2003, "Public Space Markets - What We Know and What We Don't Know", STAIF 2003 Albuquerque.
Also downloadable from space markets what we know and what we dont know.shtml

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