JEFF Bezos’s willy-shaped rocket ship and his macho rivalry with Richard Branson could herald a new era of space travel where regular folks could fly from London to New York in just 50 MINUTES.
Analysts believe there’s a billion-dollar industry ready to be cracked wide open using hypersonic jets and passenger-carrying rocket craft – and its hoped one day the travel could be open to the masses.
Bezos and Branson both used their billions to blast themselves into the stratosphere as they enjoyed the thrill of space flight that was once reserved for highly trained pilots and astronauts.
And while their apparent rivalry has sparked much mocking from the world at large – especially due to the phallic shape of Bezos’ craft, his cowboy hat and his comments thanking of his workers – it could be a key stepping stone for the next era of air travel.
The concept of “point-to-point” space flights which would massively reduce long-haul flight times is already being explored by the likes of Virgin Atlantic.
Blasting a hypersonic jet through the vacuum of space could slash the flight time from the UK to Hong Kong or Tokyo to less than two hours.
And they have predicted just like the first aeroplanes which only carried one or two people, Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket called New Shepherd and Branson’s VSS Unity plane could one day be like the jumbo jets of near space travel.
Both New Shepherd and VSS Unity hit speeds of Mach 3 – 2,300mph – and it’s believed the next step is hypersonic travel, speeds of Mach 5 which is nearly 4,000mph.
Analysts have said most non-billionaires won’t want to just go for a jaunt into near space, they will want the technology to have a more practical and real-world application.
Hypersonic point-to-point space flights could be the answer and see travel from London to Tokyo, Japan, cut to just 90 minutes, or a trip to New York in just 50 minutes.
Some firms predict the technology could be ready by 2050.
The flights are thought to be decades away – but air passengers could one day cruise in “space liner” aircraft that could carry you half way around the world in a fraction of the current flight times.
Do you want to spend all the time to just have a joy ride? No. You want to go from New York to Tokyo in an hour or two
Bank of America aerospace analyst Ron Epstein told CNN the only way to make Bezos and Branson’s space dream viable is to use the technology for commercial flights – as more passengers, means cheaper prices.
“The only way to get that volume is to have it be part of a transportation network,” he said.
“Do you want to spend all the time to just have a joy ride? No. You want to go from New York to Tokyo in an hour or two.”
It’s a market that could already worth $20BILLION every year – an estimate based on the more than 150m people who took long-haul flights of 10 hours or more in 2018.
If five per cent of those jet-setting customers paid $2,500 to travel via space with hypersonic jets then a new $20bn industry would explode.
The aerospace expert insists that the $2,500 ticket estimate is low, considering high-rollers currently pay much more for business and first class tickets long-haul.
He says that the prospect of hypersonic commercial flights will happen sooner rather than later.
“It’s not something that will be easy to do. I think it’s going to happen in the lifetime of my kids, if not in my lifetime. But it’s not five years from now,’ he said.
Aviation expert Alex Macheras told The Sun Online: “There’s definitely a market for having travellers fly faster from A to B.
“The aviation sector has cracked the code to flat beds, luxury service, superjumbo jets, and recently more efficient, quieter aircraft… but the time it takes to fly from Point A to Point B hasn’t been part of the innovation since the demise of Concorde.
He added: “There are endless considerations and hurdles to overcome, meaning it’s still likely to be a while — climate change goals, efficiencies (both economic and environmental), certain technological requirements, research and investment in relation to the operation of hypersonic aircraft, but rest assured: it’s happening.”
Mr Macheras added that he believes high-rolling passengers will pay the price to enjoy these short, hypersonic flights.
Rich passengers already pay for much more minor privileges such as quieter cabins, bed seats and priority boarding – so why wouldn’t they fork out to more than halve flight time?
Bezos already compared his plans to expand his space flight dreams to the growth of commercial air travel at a press conference after his rocket launch on Tuesday.
He said: “We’re really almost in the barnstormer phase. These are biplanes, and they’re flying into a farmer’s field. And charging… to fly people around for a few minutes in the air, that’s what we’re doing right now.
“But do you know where that barnstorming phase leads? To 787s. And that’s what we have to do.”
And in 2019, investment firm UBS predicted: “Some might view the potential to use space to service the long-haul travel market as science fiction, we think … point-to-point flights that take more than 10 hours … is a large market to be cannibalised.”
Laura Forczyk, owner of space consulting firm Astralytical, said: “Early planes carried very few people. Imagine what air fares would be like if they still only carried a few.”
And aerospace companies are keen to invest in Virgin’s vision of short-haul space travel.
In 2019, Boeing bought a $20million stake in Richard Branson’s space firm to help develop hypersonic jets.
And in May this year, NASA cut a deal with Virgin allowing the space agency to share its resources and expertise with the company.
Branson’s vision of point-to-point space travel is one of the key reasons his firm’s share price rose more than 50 per cent last year despite Covid battering the travel industry.
Virgin Galactic’s current jet is Mach 3 – so its only supersonic rather than hypersonic – which means is can top speeds of 2,300mph although future space crafts would likely travel at a far greater speed.
But, not all travel experts are as enthusiast about the prospect of being strapped to a rocket and being blasted into space.
Simon Calder, one of the UK’s most respected travel journalists, believes airlines will continue to wine and dine passengers on long haul flights rather than invest in hypersonic technology.
He told Sun Online: “I’m old enough to have flown on Concorde – as a courier paying only £150 from London to New York.
“The supersonic jet was based on 1960s technology and was ridiculously inefficient. But even in the 2020s I can’t see any prospect of hypersonic travel for a few more decades, by which stage I hope to be popping around the UK with my personal jet pack.
“Airlines have been much more focused on indulging business travellers so they don’t notice how long it’s taking, and I expect that to continue.
“Also, the coronavirus pandemic means business travel has largely collapsed and for the next few years travellers will be staying closer to home – and if you’re only going as far as Frankfurt or Milan, it really doesn’t matter if it takes two hours or 20 minutes, with all the faff at the airports before and after the flight.”