SpaceX has signed a deal with US space tourism company Space Adventures for paying passengers to ride on a special five-day flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
That will occur late next year or early 2022, and will take the four passengers 1,000 kilometres out into space, well beyond the 400-kilometre orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) and setting a new altitude record for private citizen space fight.
This mission could well herald a resumption of space tourism. Though that’s much talked about in the new space economy, little has happened lately.
So far, just seven paying passengers have flown to space, one twice, all on flights arranged by Space Adventures and all aboard Russian Soyuz missions to the ISS.
The first space tourist was US engineer and entrepreneur Dennis Tito, who spent a week on the ISS in 2001, reportedly paying US$20 million for the experience.
The last space tourist – the industry prefers the term personal spaceflight – was Canadian businessman Guy Laliberte who flew in 2009.
None have occurred since, as Soyuz missions have been fully committed to supporting the ISS, with no spare seats.
The space tourism hiatus appears set to change, with crewed spaceflights to the ISS set to resume from US territory this year.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon will make its first crewed flight around mid-year. The Boeing Starliner was expected to make its inaugural crewed flight this year but that’s been delayed following a software problem on its first uncrewed mission in December.
Many space tourism proposals are waiting to happen.
Last year, NASA announced it would begin taking paying passengers to the ISS. Virgin Galactic has long planned to conduct tourist missions, taking paying passengers on relatively short missions to the edge of space in its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.
The price is US$250,000 each, with the company saying 600 potential passengers were in the queue.
Space Adventures chairman Eric Anderson said the planned SpaceX Dragon mission would be a special experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It would reach twice the altitude of any prior civilian astronaut mission or space station visitor, he said.
This would carry the passengers far beyond the orbit of the ISS and close to the record for a crewed orbital flight set by Gemini 11 in 1966. That briefly reached an altitude of 1,374 kilometres.
Space Adventures isn’t talking prices yet, though a company official told SpaceNews that it would be in the range of other space flight opportunities. That would appear to be around US$50 million.
Passengers won’t get to just turn up and fly – they will need to undergo training, which would be conducted in the US and take a few weeks. Earlier space tourists had to undergo up to six months of training, mostly in Russia.
The Crew Dragon will carry up to four tourists and likely no pilot or crew as the craft is designed to be fully autonomous.
Space Adventures has released a catchy video to entice those with the cash and inclination to embark on the ultimate adventure holiday.
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