Costs vs Benefits

The developmental costs for suborbital spaceplanes are not insignificant. SpaceShipOne cost at least $20 million to develop from conception to flying object, winning back half that amount in the form of the X-Prize. The real benefit in terms of cost comes from repeated operations once spaceplanes enter regular service. If a single spaceplane can make 100 flights over a period of several years, the developmental costs can be amortized over that period, and costs per flight can be significantly reduced compared to one-shot missiles. Repeated operations, of course, depend on wings and wheels rather than staged rockets, modular spacecraft, and blunt reentry vehicles.

Space tourists will gladly pay large sums for the privilege of being flown into the space environment. They will effectively fund the development of better and better spaceplanes and ensure continual upgrades. In time, spaceplanes will gradually increase their capabilities and improve their safety records, until the advanced, single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane is finally developed. In this way, the huge costs to develop these vehicles will be shared by thousands of paying passengers, who will literally be funding their own future safe access to space in superior, reusable spaceships. These are the real benefits, but it seems it will require privately owned businesses rather than wasteful government programs, to make it happen.

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