SpaceX has been working toward a crewed NASA launch to the International Space Station (ISS) for years, but that’s not the company’s only plan for human spaceflight. Today, SpaceX and Space Adventures have announced a partnership that will bring Elon Musk’s company fully into the world of space tourism. Within two years, SpaceX will send four civilians into orbit aboard its Dragon capsule.
Space Adventures is a boutique space tourism business that focuses on helping the ultra-wealthy look down on the rest of humanity in new ways (from space). The company’s website has a menu of “experiences” like spacewalks, the ISS, and lunar orbital flights. Of course, you can’t just book those trips even if you’re fabulously wealthy. Each trip has to be coordinated with Roscosmos, which sells seats aboard Soyuz capsules. So far, Space Adventures has helped seven people visit the International Space Station.
Space Adventures’ collaboration with SpaceX is a bit different. Rather than spend several days on the ISS, these space tourists will orbit Earth in the human-rated Dragon capsule after launching on a Falcon 9. That’s the same spacecraft astronauts will use to reach the ISS under the NASA Commercial Crew Contract. According to Space Adventures, the passengers will set a record for the highest altitude for a private citizen — Dragon will orbit two or three times higher than the ISS, which remains at a constant 250 miles above Earth. The details are otherwise thin; we don’t know how long the passengers will stay in space or what kind of preparation they’ll need to complete.
This is not SpaceX’s first experience with space tourism, but it’s the first time seats on its Dragon capsule have been up for sale to the public. Previously, SpaceX partnered with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to plan a crewed flight around the moon aboard the still-in-development Starship (known at the time as the Big Falcon Rocket). SpaceX never confirmed how much Maezawa paid for the honor, but it was apparently a significant chunk of the rocket’s development cost. That flight is expected as early as 2023.
SpaceX hopes to launch its first crewed flight for NASA in the coming months after rectifying an issue that caused a Dragon capsule to explode last year. The newly announced Dragon tourist flight will probably happen in late 2021 or early 2022. Space Adventures says “up to four people” will take part, which implies it hasn’t sold all the spots yet. Neither company plans to disclose the cost of each seat, but it’s surely astronomical.
- SpaceX Starship Prototype Bursts During Pressure Testing
- SpaceX Successfully Tests Crewed Dragon Launch Abort Engines
- Elon Musk Unveils His Starship, Plans to Fly It in a Matter of Months