Sub-Orbital Travel Is Going to Make the World Feel Really, Really Small

Our small world is about to get even smaller—for those who can afford to fly sub-orbitally

Space Illustration by Sweetie 187

The real-estate consulting company Knight-Frank is envisioning a future where our small world gets even smaller. In the company's latest Wealth Report, its analysts say that, essentially, because 70 super-rich people (combined wealth of $220 billion) are interested in investing sub-orbital travel, it's a very real possibility that travel times could be decimated in the future. 

A flight from Moscow to New York in just one hour instead of nine sounds great, doesn't it? And it might just be possible. Scott Smith over at Quartz reports

According to the report, having suborbital escape options means not only looking at the possibilities of getting from London to Sydney in around 2 1/2 hours, but possibly reaching less expensive markets for luxury property such as Sao Paolo or Cape Town in a similar amount of time. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which says it will fly this year, or Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin are poised to not only satisfy thrill seekers, but perhaps take a bite out of private jets and opulent first-class cabins over the long term.

These services employ reusable aircraft-like vehicles to enter low Earth orbit briefly and return to a ground station via traditional landing— eliminating the time suck of long-haul flights. That is, if you don’t mind donning a pressure suit over your power suit and have $250,000 to drop on a one-way ride.

In other words, the titans of industry on Wall Street might just start weekending at their second home in New Zealand instead of the Hamptons.

That's great for them, but what about everybody else? Right now, the sub-orbital technology in development is focused on taking wealthy tourists into space, research or a combination of the two—not on establishing an alternative to air travel.

Once more spaceports start to open up (let's just stop for a second, and notice that we're now talking about multiple commerical spaceports, which is pretty cool), it's possible that sub-orbital travel could expand beyond a quick sojurn to space and become an actual means of transportation between two locations. It will still likely only be accessible to people with money to burn…at first. But with the infrastructure in place and the initial R&D of sub-orbital travel finished, there is the possibility that prices could drop, opening up those shorter travel times to more people. 

Knight-Frank is interested in how these quick continent-hopping jaunts will affect property prices, too. On the company's blog:

Ticket price will be critical. If this is a technology for billionaires only, then property market disruption might be limited to a wider choice of global lunch options. But if the price drops to allow the merely very wealthy to access sub-orbital flights, then every assumption about current property prices will have to be reconsidered.

Liam Bailey states: “Take second homes in Europe. Right now, demand is mainly restricted to European investors, who try to limit their travel to less than two hours. In future, that same time limit could allow Chinese or Indian investors to pop over for the weekend to visit their Tuscan farmhouse.”

Ok, so maybe it’ll take a little more time for people who aren’t “merely very wealthy” to travel into space. But as Bailey told Quartz, cars, planes and cruise liners used to be the province of the wealthy, too.

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