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The Economics of Space Tourism Using Starship


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Since so much Starship development has been happening lately, I think it's a good time to discuss it's capabilities in the realm of space tourism, and wether or not this could be a source of good income for SpaceX. I am no economist or business expert, but I've done my best to estimate a couple of ways this might work.

 

LEO Tourism, How Might It Work?

Musk recently said that Starship could cost as little as $2 million per launch. Which for a 150 tonne payload capability means an incredible $13/kg price tag, about 1000 times cheaper than a Delta IV Heavy, which still boggles my mind, based on that, and a stated passenger capacity of 100, launch cost per person (and 1.5 t associated hardware/consumables) could be as low as $20,000.

Now, it's worth noting that Starship won't just be a big crew capsule, it's essentially a recoverable space station, with a pressurised volume of 1,000m3, each passenger could have 10m3 of space, which translates to a cubical about 2.15m on each side. That sounds small, but in space the floor, wall, and ceiling can all be useful spaces, whereas on Earth it's mostly just the floor (or rather, what we put on the floor), so you can imagine it'd be the equivalent useful surface area of a room 5.3m on each side, so I think it's reasonable to say that you could probably live in such a room fairly comfortably.

So, with a 1.5 t mass allowance per passenger, how long could you reasonably spend in orbit?

We can assume about 100 kg of that allowance will be made up by the passenger and whatever luggage they have brought, we can also assume that about 330 kg of that will be life support systems (the ISS life support system on the Zvezda module weighs 2.3 t, the ISS has a maximum capacity of 7 crew, therefore each crew has 330 kg of life support), and perhaps another 330kg of associated internal structures. All in all perhaps half of the mass allowance per passenger will be dedicated to life support and comfort. Effectively leaving 75 t of payload that can then be used for consumables that can't be recycled, like food. Let's say each passenger uses up 3 kg of these consumables per day, that means you could support 100 passengers for about 250 days, or about 8 months, of course in reality you'd want to have a good margin on that, so let's say you can keep them in space for 6 months, about the same as a trip to the ISS, so there's loads of relevant data.

Now, assuming 10 of the passengers are actually employees of SpaceX, chefs, janitors, room service etc, and you pay them each, say, $20,000 on their 6 month stay, then your total cost is about $2.4 million. Say SpaceX operates at a profit margin of 100%, and each ticket for the other 90 passengers will cost about $53,000 dollars. At a rate of 20 launches a year, this amounts to a profit of around $48 million.

Of course, this works under the assumption that people will want to spend 6 months in orbit in a small cabin, this seems unlikely if the destination is LEO. Rather I imagine passengers might want to spend perhaps a month in orbit in a much larger cabin, where microgravity activities and sports could provide an attractive source of entertainment, as well as sight seeing and perhaps even recreational EVAs. So instead let's say each launch consists of 25 passengers, perhaps 5 of them being members of staff (each payed perhaps $3,000 a month), in this scenario the total cost is $2.015 million, and ticket prices per passenger are (at a 100% profit margin) about $200,000 each, with each passenger having a much larger 40m3 of space, or a cubical 3.4m long per side.

How many people would pay to experience such a holiday is a hard question to answer. But it'll probably have to be people earning at least more than $1 million a year. In America, that represents some 235,000 people, of which perhaps 1% would be interested in such a holiday. So let's say theres a market of 2,000 people a year who would pay for such a holiday, meaning that SpaceX could launch around 100 passenger Starships a year at a profit of $200 million. That market size may sound optimistic, but considering 600 people have already signed up for a few minutes of weightlessness on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, for roughly the same price, I'd say it's a reasonable guess.

 

Does Starship Necessitate Space Tourism?

The Starship, if/when it flies, will be so capable it'll instantly dominate the global launch demand. There were only 111 rocket launches in 2018, perhaps a cumulative payload of a few hundred tonnes, and a single Starship could satisfy this demand by launching a handful of times a year, at a cost 2-3 orders of magnitude lower than the current competition. Clearly, another source of launches must be found to make Starship economical. SpaceX themselves are already creating one possible source of launches with their Starlink constellation, which may one day consist of up to 42,000 227 kg satellites, a total mass of 9500t. But even though that's over double what's currently in orbit, is still less than 70 Starship launches, even at SpaceX's current launch capability of 30 rockets a year, that only gives Starship a couple of years of work. It seems inevitable that SpaceX will have to branch off into services that, as of now, do not exist. Space tourism is one such service, and makes a good stepping stone for SpaceX to build up experience with human crew before committing to shipping massive colonies off to Mars, which is ultimately what Starship is designed for.

 

I can't help but think that other launch providers, such as ULA or Blue Origin, will have to really up their reusability game to stay in business in the next decade. My personal hunch is that Blue Origin is already on it, and their mysterious "New Armstrong" vehicle is a fully reusable Starship analog. I'm not sure about ULA though. Any thoughts?

Edited by Ol’ Musky Boi
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6 hours ago, Ol’ Musky Boi said:

Musk recently said that Starship could cost as little as $2 million per launch.

Was this estimation based on some numbers?
I'm not aware of Texan salaries, but currently Space-X has 7000 employees (wiki), and if the Starship personnel is, say, 1 000 people with 2 000 USD/month, it's already 2 mln/month.
And as far as I can understand, it will be the main source of money for the company in whole.

Edited by kerbiloid
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2 minutes ago, kerbiloid said:

Was this estimation based on some numbers?
I'm not aware of Texan salaries, but currently Space-X has 7000 employees (wiki), and if the Starship personnel is, say, 1 000 people with 2 000 USD/month, it's already 2 mln/month.
And as far as I can understand, it will be the main source of money for the company in whole.

He was talking marginal launch costs, including I think amortized vehicle costs since he said 900k$ was propellants.

 

Generally I think that while space tourism is a good model if cheap enough to gain mass use, it has to be safe first.

 

6 hours ago, Ol’ Musky Boi said:

$20,000 on their 6 month stay,

6 months is not going to be a thing. Who takes a 6 month vacation? Space would be a cool experience, but more than a few days and people will be bored. It'd be like going to a nice hotel some place and not being allowed to leave the room. I could read for a while, but I can read at home. I almost always book hotels with fantastic views for vacation (since I have a fantastic view at home, it's not much of a vacay if the view out my temporary home is lousy). this would have a fantastic view, and I could see just staring out the window... but how long could I realistically do that?

Suborbital is too short, but more than a week is too long---and a week might well be too long, frankly.

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7 hours ago, kerbiloid said:

Was this estimation based on some numbers?
I'm not aware of Texan salaries, but currently Space-X has 7000 employees (wiki), and if the Starship personnel is, say, 1 000 people with 2 000 USD/month, it's already 2 mln/month.
And as far as I can understand, it will be the main source of money for the company in whole.

By launching 3 times a day to distribute those fixed costs among 90 flights a month.

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10 hours ago, tater said:

6 months is not going to be a thing. Who takes a 6 month vacation?

I agree, I say as much in my post, I think a month is about the max any tourist would want to spend in orbit, since the majority of the cost will be that of launch (even with full reusability), the longer you stay in space and the more passengers there are the cheaper the tickets, somewhere in there there's a balance that people would want to pay for. Though when the ISS is eventually decommissioned sometime in the mid 2020s there will be a need for a new interim orbital research lab for operation and recovery of microgravity experiments. Starship fills this role pretty well, it has more pressurised volume than the ISS, and likely a similar power capacity (most recent numbers I can find are 300 kW for the ITS, so perhaps half that for the current iteration), one can imagine space agencies or even universities hiring out a Starship to do 6 months of research with. Heck, a Starship's propellant tanks probably make up an extra 1,400 m3 of pressurised volume at least (based on an O/F ratio of 3.8, and a propellant mass of 1200 tonnes), so a refurbished Starship "wet workshop" could feasibly increase crew capacity from 100 to 240, and if you dock two of them together now you've got a space station with a crew capacity of 500, add a couple more and it's 1000, and so on.

Currently Musk says the cost of Raptor manufacture is $2 million per unit, which could drop to as low as $200 thousand per unit in future. Assuming that this is the majority of vehicles costs, with say an added 10% cost for the rest of the vehicle, each Starship could cost between $1.3 - $13 million. Meaning that you could theoretically build a space station of 1 million occupants for $5.4 - $54 billion. Why off Earth you would need such a station (pun intended, sorry not sorry), other than planetary invasion, I don't know, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless. Since there may also be an increasing demand for partial gravity research, we could also see Starships tethered together to make makeshift artificial gravity stations.

Of course, I think by the time Starship production ramps up enough to make these kinds of things feasible it'll make far more sense to have dedicated stations for space tourism, instead of slap dash fuel tanks with cramped bunks and no windows. We could see the wet workshop concept being employed on Mars, since it does make a lot of sense to keep most of your Starships on Mars permanently to minimise load on the fuel production plant, and a nice roomy 2,400 m3 area I can imagine would be well received by initial crews, which will likely consist of perhaps only a dozen or so members.

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1 minute ago, Ol’ Musky Boi said:

I think a month is about the max any tourist would want to spend in orbit,

I'd say a week, honestly. That might even be too long. The problem with zero g is that ~50% of people get sick after a few days, then it takes a few days to get over it (duration is 2-4 days for most). I suppose you need to maximize enjoyable duration.

 

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4 hours ago, tater said:

I'd say a week, honestly. That might even be too long. The problem with zero g is that ~50% of people get sick after a few days, then it takes a few days to get over it (duration is 2-4 days for most). I suppose you need to maximize enjoyable duration.

 

I don't necessarily think there'd be a lack of entertainment if you stayed in space for a month, some people like to go on cruises for similar lengths of time, but I do think you're right that the limiting factor may be zero g exposure, so perhaps for an up and down Starship space trip a week would just about do the trick. Although once we start talking artificial gravity stations, where you might only spend a few hours a day in microgravity, longer stays do start to look more attractive.

It's interesting to imagine what a Lunar cruise may be like, perhaps a 3 day journey there to spend 2 weeks on the surface during the lunar day (not much to see in the dark), then another 3 day journey back to LEO in some sort of cruiser, perhaps with changing gravity like in the Artemis book, where the centrifuge would slowly spin up or down to accustom the passengers to Lunar or Earth gravity during transit. Of course the cost of sending payloads to the Moon is about an order of magnitude more expensive than sending payloads to LEO, so ticket prices will be at least in the million dollar range for quite a while, at least if you're going for comfort.

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Just now, Ol’ Musky Boi said:

I don't necessarily think there'd be a lack of entertainment if you stayed in space for a month, some people like to go on cruises for similar lengths of time

Cruises are not something I do, but the ships are floating resorts. Multiple fancy places to eat, pools, gyms, nightclubs, etc. They also tend to stop places. Steam at night, go into port, and people visit some tourist spot. Starship is not a resort. Cooking? Food is camping food (at best). People lose their ability to taste in space, so unless smothered with hot sauce, etc, food is bland. Using the toilet in microgravity? Not so much fun.

The only things of interest are microgravity, and the view. How many hours in a row until you get bored?

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2 minutes ago, tater said:

The only things of interest are microgravity, and the view. How many hours in a row until you get bored?

That's quite a difficult thing to judge, considering that even Astronauts don't spend half their time having fun in microgravity or looking at the view, and even then the ISS doesn't have quite the same amount as open space as perhaps a Starship or a large space station would have (those windows in most of the Starship renderings are massive, I imagine that view would be pretty phenomenal compared to the Cupola). Until someone tries it of course we won't know, but I'd wager that people wouldn't get sick of it so easily. What seems most likely to me is that some may spend short ~1 week sorties in Starships, and then up to ~1 month stays in bigger space hotels (possibly longer, you may be an employee there who stays on board for months at a time), with artificial gravity to prevent muscle atrophy and to aid in many gravity adjusted tasks. I doubt you'll stay in space beyond that as a tourist, only if you were a researcher, employee, or permanent resident (of which there would likely be few). If we're talking Lunar or Martian tourism the travel times involved make longer stays more attractive, kinda like how some people might spend a couple of years abroad for a change of scenery.

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I think rotating places could have some real allure. You could spend as much time as you like in microgravity, and have just enough g to have toilets, decent food, etc.

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54 minutes ago, tater said:

Cruises are not something I do, but the ships are floating resorts. Multiple fancy places to eat, pools, gyms, nightclubs, etc. They also tend to stop places. Steam at night, go into port, and people visit some tourist spot. Starship is not a resort. Cooking? Food is camping food (at best). People lose their ability to taste in space, so unless smothered with hot sauce, etc, food is bland. Using the toilet in microgravity? Not so much fun.

The only things of interest are microgravity, and the view. How many hours in a row until you get bored?

I remember hearing about "cruises to nowhere" decades ago.  I'm guessing that this was when you had to go to Atlantic City to legally gamble or take the cruise (and cruising out of Baltimore beat going to Atlantic City).  It was a thing, but I think it was a day trip (it only had to go a few miles off shore to open up the casinos).

Part of the draw will always be that "I've been to space and you haven't".  Legend claims that considerable bits of the Kama Sutra are impossible in a gravity field might also come into play.  Anybody know how important the mile high club was to early aviation?  Although I suspect that anything we are talking about should be seen closer to the barnstorming era (moreso for suborbital flights) which certainly didn't include anything like that.

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Like in the Sea Dragon project, where the rocket was to be built out of seaship materials in a sea shipyard and then use the shipyard as a spaceport,
the space tourism should be a continuation of the sea tourism.

1. To let them wow! comparing how long were they going by seaship and how fast they do this in orbit. ("Look! That two-week trip now took us 15 minutes!")
2. For adaptation to the sea sickness. It's cheaper to spend a couple of days feeding the oceanic life than loose those days in orbit.

So, there should be a universal personal ticket, "no orbit before the sea".

***

6 hours ago, Ol’ Musky Boi said:

2 weeks on the surface during the lunar day (not much to see in the dark),

I would guess that exactly the lunar night is much more tourist friendly.
The lunar day is just a lunar day, you can easily get it in any coal-mining region. Not much to see there, except for the geological nerds.
While there is a lot of todo in the lunar night. Lunar night orgies festivals, lunar fire shows, etc.
Also it's cold, so you can spend a lot of energy and not overheat.

Probably a typical lunar trip should take a lunar night + morning and evening, so about 3 weeks (0.5 + 2 + 0.5) + 1 week of flight.

You can do this with lunar rocks and craters, dull gray in the lunar day.
https://www.google.com/search?biw=2133&bih=1087&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=DUvGXYKNDsnBmwXRzbygAQ&q=ночная+подсветка+зданий&oq=ночная+подсветка+зданий&gs_l=img.3..0i24.44917.48790..49303...0.0..0.94.1084.13......0....1..gws-wiz-img.......0j0i67j0i2.SU4TWLZmLr0&ved=0ahUKEwjCx8q1r9zlAhXJ4KYKHdEmDxQQ4dUDCAc&uact=5

Spoiler

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTxCTADU-T0MtL8FMumQamimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcTAc70Mz3dY7Amka6RY_sgimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcSQnY3f5epJGLdSI7QiMSsimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcQX25v9NePoQqdSeALBYORimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcTY8eFUrjIMSDjxp6a4pqZimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcSogotUiirDWBRJvQhASuwimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcS0y5L39mTMYYEyxswp8STimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcQORABPfWc2UZRYj30yBLo

 

Dynamic light patterns.

Spoiler

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQLF77BSuS5wGKtk_-lDm6

 

Fireworks.
(And you have a lot metal oxides around to produce the pyrotechnics in the lunar day between the tourist groups.)

Spoiler

10530127-row-of-fireworks-out-of-the-gro



Pools and slowly falling waterfalls.

Spoiler

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTXHz1n5JhBanvpgXjuMIYae82920ddbf9afb4f4922abd116d9286.jpg936f32f1b86f69ddad1cd9da84a41860.jpg

 

And week-long lunar day trips for scouts between the adult tourists lunar nightclub.

P.S.
Additional bonus: as nothing grows on the Moon outside the greenhoouses, and all chemicals are limited and counted, this will be the first in the world history drug-free nightclub, where cheerful and sober people have fun (dance the dances, play charades, listen music, and so on).

P.P.S.
I would suggest a lunar disneyland discussion.
If take a usual attraction park and rework it things to 1/6 gravity, what it would be.

Squad! Maybe, a whole DLC could be grown from.

Edited by kerbiloid
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Economics for tourism are predicated on making people feel safe flying it.

Under the (huge) assumption that they could get P2P at something like airline levels of safety then it becomes a thing. Heck, not even modern airline safety, it'll be a high bar for them to get to airline safety levels from the 1930s (or 20s).

As an economic benchmark, Shotwell has said that P2P would cost between economy and business class. That's likely ~$2000. SS has the internal volume of an A380, which means you could fit hundreds in SS---the flight is only <30 minutes after all. Say 500 people (low compared to A380 all economy). That's $4000/seat. LAX-SYD this Monday is ~$1000 RT economy (less, actually). ~$5000 business class, and 13k 1st class. I suppose that 4k is less than business class, but that's just break even for 500 per flight. Perhaps operations P2P would be under 2M$/flight? Maybe a single stage SS since it's suborbital? Price for that application must be lower or it doesn't close.

This is a critical issue for the economics of tourism, because you need safety, and you need costs in the right ballpark. P2P competes with airline travel, so it must be cost competitive at least in the value for money regime. 28 minutes vs 10s of hours is huge value, and many people would spend that if it was safe. Perhaps the inner seats are value for money, and there are window seats for 1st class sorts of prices? Everyone doing P2P becomes a BO/Virgin style space tourist into the bargain.

If we assume spacecraft pricing for tourism to LEO+, then it's 2M$/flight, though.

Assuming that this becomes possible, then it's just a matter of building the infrastructure. Every single destination in space for humans is a 100% built environment.

As @Ol’ Musky Boi said, Starship itself is a spacecraft (crew version) that could be a short term hotel for early tourism. You'd not want to be packed in, because bathroom space becomes a serious issue, and it apparently takes a while to use a space toilet. I'd honestly think that for tourism, you'd need cabins with a bathroom for at least each set of people sharing a room. The craft can't generate revenue (say P2P) while in space for a week, so even just exactly earning its keep might be worth 4M/day (1 RT flight someplace antipodal). So a week in space has to make more than 28M$ just to not waste the SS asset and break even. If you put 30 people aboard (no one want to be packed in for such a trip), you'd have to charge at least a million bucks I'd think. You could get takers, but it's a limited market.

If we were to pack people in, say the same 500+ as P2P, then the price drops per seat to a few thousand... but then you need a place to bring them.

If it was a flight to the Moon (say a tourist place there), then the SS will need to refill. You'd send a tanker to the same orbit ahead of time to an elliptical orbit, 7 refills, then you send the passengers. So we have 9 launches to get the thing to the Moon with minimal delay (can drop one, then they sit in orbit far longer). now it's not 4k/seat, it's 36k/seat if 500 seats (too many for days flight) (lunar RT flight). At cost. So probably more like 250-300k would be entry level for a lunar trip (100 seats, not 500). Course the base has to be built, too. Maybe it's leveraged by State actors. Build a research base, then expand it for tourism to pay for continued operations?

Edited by tater
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On 11/8/2019 at 7:10 AM, tater said:

He was talking marginal launch costs, including I think amortized vehicle costs since he said 900k$ was propellants.

 

Generally I think that while space tourism is a good model if cheap enough to gain mass use, it has to be safe first.

 

6 months is not going to be a thing. Who takes a 6 month vacation? Space would be a cool experience, but more than a few days and people will be bored. It'd be like going to a nice hotel some place and not being allowed to leave the room. I could read for a while, but I can read at home. I almost always book hotels with fantastic views for vacation (since I have a fantastic view at home, it's not much of a vacay if the view out my temporary home is lousy). this would have a fantastic view, and I could see just staring out the window... but how long could I realistically do that?

Suborbital is too short, but more than a week is too long---and a week might well be too long, frankly.

Assume the two millions would include the launch and recovery costs at the Texas site and fuel for on trip. 
And only the cost of the launch not fixed cost like salaries or the cost of starship and facility. 
In short its the cost of launching rather than not doing it.

And yes space tourism will become an thing, think even an month will be a bit long. A week to weekend will be more common. Note that an week can give you an Moon flyby, I assume this require refueling so will be more expensive. 

One fun option I came up with is an way to use starship large capacity for satellite launches. 
The crew version we seen renders of has an cargo bay large enough for smaller satellites. Main constraint is an height of perhaps 3 meter an I guess the hatch is 4 meter wide, Space enough for smaller satellites. 
Fill up with tourists and give them an day to an weekend in space. Many of this orbits will be polar of highly inclined, this is an benefit for tourists as they get to see more of earth. They also get to see the satellite deployment. 

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18 minutes ago, magnemoe said:

And yes space tourism will become an thing, think even an month will be a bit long. A week to weekend will be more common. Note that an week can give you an Moon flyby, I assume this require refueling so will be more expensive. 

I go through that just above. From that analysis I posted in the SpaceX thread, it's something like 7-8 total launches (counting the crew vehicle) to refill. I propose that a tanker staying in orbit would be best for crew, fill the tanker 100%, then transfer tanker to crew vehicle in 1 go. Cost to Moon is then 18M$. If you take 100 that's 180 grand a seat.

That's cost, BTW, so also a markup. 250k a seat to the Moon?

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5 hours ago, magnemoe said:

One fun option I came up with is an way to use starship large capacity for satellite launches. 
The crew version we seen renders of has an cargo bay large enough for smaller satellites. Main constraint is an height of perhaps 3 meter an I guess the hatch is 4 meter wide, Space enough for smaller satellites. 
Fill up with tourists and give them an day to an weekend in space. Many of this orbits will be polar of highly inclined, this is an benefit for tourists as they get to see more of earth. They also get to see the satellite deployment. 

Another option is to fill aft cargo bays with Starlink. The bays aren’t used for tourist launches anyway. Launch into a useful orbit, drop Starlinks, wait for a few days, land. That would kill two birds with one launch.

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11 hours ago, magnemoe said:

Fill up with tourists and give them an day to an weekend in space. Many of this orbits will be polar of highly inclined, this is an benefit for tourists as they get to see more of earth.

They can't. It will hit a Starlink sat, lol.

5 hours ago, sh1pman said:

That would kill two birds with one launch.

Yes, or two of them.

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On 11/10/2019 at 12:11 AM, sh1pman said:

Another option is to fill aft cargo bays with Starlink. The bays aren’t used for tourist launches anyway. Launch into a useful orbit, drop Starlinks, wait for a few days, land. That would kill two birds with one launch.

Starlink update runs would be perfect for this. In short any mission not require an huge fairing and not going to high into the radiation belt. Granted you could return to lower orbit after delivery for most missions. 

Edited by magnemoe
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