Will Virgin Galactic break guitars? Opening a new market for space travel

There's a market for everything -- including commercial travel well past the 35,000-foot level. A vast new business frontier is about to open up above us.

They say there's a market for everything.

And commercial aviation is certainly one of the largest and most exciting markets. My colleagues here at SmartPlanet, Larry Dignan and John Dodge, have just posted details on American Airlines' next-generation passenger information system , and the next generation of aircraft -- Dreamliners -- people will fly in. Plus, John has been providing us the latest scoops on Dave Carroll's incredibly popular social media response to United Airlines' mishandling of his guitar, and the airlines' ensuing refusal to own up to the damage.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

But perhaps its time to set our sites above the 35,000-foot level, and start recognizing that a vast new frontier of commercial travel is about to open up above us.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, referenced in The Business Insider, the Obama administration wants the private sector to pick up the slack for our cash-strapped space agency.

"Contract winners would use corporate funds to build and test rockets, provide compatible space capsules and then try to recoup those investments by offering commercial-style transportation services to the agency. Essentially, NASA would be paying a set fee for every pound or person transported to orbit."

And the private sector is now ready and willing. Makes sense. Why should the government have all the fun? Companies ready to start space travel include Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), Virgin Galactic, United Launch Alliance (a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin), Alliant Techsystems Inc., Orbital Sciences, EADS Astrium, XCOR Aerospace, Rocketplane Limited, Space Adventures, Blue Origin, and Armadillo Aerospace.

These companies all are worth watching, and Virgin Galactic -- which has adopted Burt Rutan's successful SpaceShipOne model, winner of the Ansari X Prize for achieving suborbital flight -- says it will begin active test flights of the WS-Eve mothership, with SpaceShipTwo attached, at the end of this year.

The initial ticket prices for commercial suborbital flights average about $200,000. So it can be assumed that passengers will receive premium customer service, and guitar cases will be handled with the utmost care. But as prices drop, passenger volume increases, and space travel becomes an everyday thing -- with TSA screenings, baggage checks, flight delays, and lost or damaged luggage -- will the commercial space travel industry have learned the lessons of the below-the-stratosphere airline industry?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com