From the Earth to the ... Earth?

It's been a great first week here at X PRIZE. I've been able to jump right into the fun space projects here, including the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and (of course!) the Google Lunar X PRIZE. One of the best aspects of the job so far has been meeting the other motivated and creative people that work here at X PRIZE. Over lunch yesterday with some of the folks who work on projects outside of the space realm, we had a fascinating discussion about the future of suborbital transportation. The discussion got me thinking, so I've turned it into a blog post to collect your input as well.

Most of you know that the original X PRIZE was the Ansari X PRIZE, which Scaled Composites won after their vehicle, SpaceShipOne, successfully completed two suborbital flights (>100km). The winning of the Ansari X PRIZE sparked the imaginations of many as to the potential evolution of this new suborbital spaceflight industry. If flying from one spaceport and returning back to it was already possible, how far were we from flying across long distances from one spaceport to another? Suddenly Los Angeles could be less than a few hours from Tokyo, instead of the 10+ hours of current travel time by airliners.

Based on my personal experiences with airline seats and service lately, and probably yours as well, the era of affordable suborbital point-to-point transportation could not come fast enough.

Not fun.

Putting aside the technical, economical, and legal issues that need to be tackled prior to this industry becoming a reality, imagine that the technology and infrastructure already existed today. I'm wondering, "What would you pay (today) for a transoceanic flight that takes two hours instead of 10+?" Go ahead and vote in the widget below (no sign up required, just click the squares to vote).

<a href="">How much would you pay for rapid point-to-point transportation?</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Amongst our lunch table yesterday, those who travel internationally for business thought that double to triple the current cost of an average business class, transoceanic airline ticket, and/or somewhere between $10,000 - $15,000 per ticket would be reasonable. One comment was made that I found particularly interesting: “If I can be productive during the time that I’m traveling, then flight time doesn’t really matter.” Do you agree? The advent of wi-fi on some flights now has significantly added to the ability to be productive while cruising at 30,000 feet.

Now let’s play a little forecasting game. What do you think the time scale for development of these vehicles will be? Are you optimistic about the rapid progression of the suborbital (or even hypersonic) vehicle industry, or do you think it will take us awhile yet to gain the necessary technologies and infrastructure necessary to make point-to-point transportation feasible?

<a href="">Suborbital point-to-point transportation will become reality within...</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Feel free to post additional comments below. And if you're interested in learning more, here are a few resources to get you started, and one upcoming event:
Team FAST Forward, Study group of high speed, point-to-point transportation (released August 4, 2009)
Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, Feb. 18-20, 2010
International Space University Masters '08 Report, "Great Expectations: The Potential for Suborbital Transporation"

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