太空旅行之爭白熱化 百億市場三分天下|A look at who’s in the billionaire space race

Strong contenders in 2021 include Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, SpaceX’s Elon Musk, as well as Virgin Group’s Richard Branson. (Photos courtesy of the Associated Press)

【看CP學英文】 瑞士聯合銀行 (Union Bank of Switzerland, UBS) 在 2019 年預估,到了2030 年,太空旅遊業每年的產業總值將達到 30 億美元(約841億新台幣), 也難怪人們都爭先恐後想在這個市場上佔有一席之地。

The Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) projected in 2019 that the space tourism industry will be worth US$3 billion dollars (around NT$84.1 billion) annually by 2030. It is no wonder, then, that people are scrambling to stake their claim on this profitable industry.

這個產業的競爭人數自2000年初就逐步上升,然而要加入私人太空探險隊,門檻一點也不低,首先要身價上千億美元才行。

The commercial space travel industry has been seeing a promising surge in industry contenders since the turn of the millennium. The catch? One has to be part of the super-rich in order to partake in the foraging into space.

太空旅遊產業在近幾年開始三分天下,產業領導人分別有亞馬遜公司(Amazon)創辦人貝佐斯(Jeff Bezos)、SpaceX 的馬斯克(Elon Musk)以及維珍集團(Virgin Group)的布蘭森(Richard Branson)。

Strong contenders in 2021 include Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, SpaceX’s Elon Musk, as well as Virgin Group’s Richard Branson.

今年7月,三名億萬富翁當中就已經有兩人成功抵達外太空了,可見太空旅行的競爭是越演越烈。

The month of July has seen two of the three billionaires shooting off to outer space in an increasingly heated space race.

7月11日,維珍銀河(Virgin Galactic)創辦人布蘭森搭乘「維珍銀河團結號」 (VSS Unity) 到達距離地球表面53英里的高度。

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson took off for space on July 11 in the VSS Unity, reaching an altitude of 53 miles above Earth’s surface.

九天後,藍色起源公司(Blue Origin) 創始人貝佐斯 (Jeff Bezos) 也緊隨其後,搭乘自家火箭「新謝波德號」( New Shepherd )到達距離地球表面66英里的高度。

Nine days later, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos followed in suit, reaching an altitude of 66 miles in the New Shepherd.

那麼維珍集團的布蘭森就成為了第一個上外太空的火箭公司老闆嗎?

Does that give Branson bragging rights to the claim of being the first-ever rocket company owner to go to outer space then?

那也不一定。許多相關組織都認為關鍵是距離地表62英里高度的「卡門線」(Kármán line),也就是外太空與地球大氣層的分界線。

Not according to organizations that recognize the Kármán line, at 62 miles above Earth’s surface, as the imaginary boundary where Earth’s atmosphere ends and outer space begins.

而布蘭森只到達53英里的高度,距離卡門線還是有一定的落差,因此嚴格來說算是與外太空擦身而過。

At 53 miles, Branson fell short of the Kármán line and strictly speaking, could be said to have brushed past the edge of space.

這麼一來,「第一個上外太空的火箭公司老闆」殊榮應該非貝佐斯莫屬了,畢竟他超越了卡門線,到達距離地表66英里的高度。

By that definition, Bezos, whose space flight took him 66 miles above Earth’s surface, will take the crown to truly become the first rocket company owner to set foot into space.

然而縱觀產業局勢,SpaceX 才是真正不可小覷的角色,該公司預計最早在今年九月進行載人軌道太空飛行(orbital flight),跟其他兩家屬於不同等級。

However, in the grand scheme of things, it seems that the real competition facing Branson and Bezos comes from SpaceX, which is in a league of its own with its planned orbital space flight scheduled in September this year at the earliest.

SpaceX 的太空之旅預計為期三天,且將由堅韌號(Crew Dragon Resilience) 圍著地球繞一圈,完成一周軌道飛行。

SpaceX’s three-day flight aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience is expected to make a complete orbit around the Earth.

An orbital flight makes one full round around the Earth, while a sub-orbital flight does not. (Photo courtesy of The Conversation, CC BY-SA)

相較之下,雖然維珍銀河與藍色起源的太空船都成功上了外太空,但都在進入太空後無法完成一周軌道飛行,因此屬於「次軌道太空飛行」(sub-orbital spaceflight) ,飛行時間短則幾分鐘,長則好幾個小時。

In contrast, both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin’s flights were sub-orbital, which means the vehicles were launched into space and came back down without completing a full orbit around the Earth. These flights can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours on end.

這麼看來,次軌道太空旅行業的競賽就只有布蘭森和貝佐斯兩個選手,而馬斯克則可以在軌道太空旅行業裡一人獨大。

That puts Branson and Bezos in the race for commercial sub-orbital flights, whereas Musk stands alone with his plans for larger-scale commercial orbital flights.

但這些億萬富翁還是可以拋開競爭關係成為好友,甚至不排斥搭乘彼此的火箭上外太空!

This does not mean these billionaires can’t remain friends and visit space on their competitors’ spacecraft though!

據一名維珍銀河公司發言人透露,馬斯克已向他們公司買了一張要價25萬美元 (約新台幣7百萬元)的外太空機票。

Musk has bought a US$250,000 (around NT$7 million) ticket to space onboard one of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, according to a Virgin Galactic spokesperson.

這對太空旅行業來說是個好消息,有了這些億萬富翁之間的競爭與合作,相信整個產業會持續蓬勃發展,更上一層樓。

This bodes well for the commercial space industry, which could very well benefit from both competition and potential cooperation between these billionaires.