Jeff Bezos says he wants to get back into outer space ASAP. An Oregon congressman wants the world’s richest man — and all other space tourists — to pay a substantial tax for the privilege.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat who represents Portland and some of its suburbs, proposed a tax on space tourists Tuesday, the same day that Bezos, his brother Mark, and two other passengers took a brief rocket trip to the edge of outer space.
After the flight Bezos said that his rocket company, Blue Origin, has booked nearly $100 million in tickets for upcoming space flights. Rival space tourism company Virgin Galactic (SPCE) has sold 600 tickets for up to $250,000 apiece for planned flights on the space plane that took its controlling shareholder, billionaire Richard Branson, on his own flight to outer space a week ago.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has a contract to deliver US astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station for NASA, also has plans for tourism flights to orbit Earth as well as to the moon in coming years. Ticket prices have not been disclosed but they are believed to be in the millions.
“This is potentially going to be a very significant business,” Blumenauer told CNN Business. “Why should a family that is taking kids to Legoland pay a 9.5% ticket tax and other charges on their airline tickets and space tourists who spend a gazillion dollars have tax free tourism?”
It’s too early to say at what rate any new space tourism tax should be levied, or what the money raised from the tax should be spent on, Blumenauer said.
“It’s meant to be a starting point of a conversation that’s important to get ahead of. Perhaps we’re already behind,” he said, referring to the recent space tourism flights. (The bill would exempt NASA spaceflights for scientific research purposes.)
Space tourism businesses have all benefited from the US space program funded by taxpayers, he added, and argued the businesses won’t be hurt or forced to shift to a different country for their launches.
“We’re talking about something that is not a huge burdensome tax. These are people can afford to pay whatever the tax will be,” he said.
Blumenauer has dubbed his bill the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act. Rockets that burn liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, as the Blue Origin rocket did on Tuesday, do not emit carbon, only water vapor. But Blumenauer said that even water vapor can cause damage to the ozone layer. And the fuels used by Virgin and SpaceX do emit carbon.
“I’m not opposed to this type of space innovation,” he said in his announcement about the bill. “However, things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment, and that don’t have a scientific purpose, should in turn support the public good.”
Neither Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic (SPCE) nor SpaceX responded to a request for comment on the tax proposal.