SpaceX aims to launch up to four tourists into a super high orbit, possibly by the end of next year
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- SpaceX aims to launch up to four tourists into a super high orbit, possibly by the end of next year.
The private company is working with Space Adventures Inc. for the flight, officials announced Tuesday. Ticket prices are not being divulged but expected to be in the millions.
Space Adventures already has helped put tourists into orbit with trips to the International Space Station, working with the Russian space program.
For this trip, paying customers will skip the space station and instead orbit two to three times higher, or roughly 500 miles to 750 miles (800 kilometers to 1,200 kilometers) above Earth.
It's a lofty goal that would approach the record 850-mile-high (1,370 kilometers) orbit achieved by Gemini 11's Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon in 1966.
The tourist flight “will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.
Elon Musk's California-based SpaceX already is dabbling in space tourism, signing on a Japanese billionaire to fly to the moon in three or so years. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic also plan tourist trips to space, but these will be brief up-and-downs, not orbital.
SpaceX will use the same kind of Dragon capsule that will launch NASA astronauts to the space station, possibly in another few months. The capsule has flown only once in space so far, making its debut last year in a successful test flight without a crew.
Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne said the tourist flight could occur in the last quarter of 2021. The company is in discussions with “several potential clients.”
No professional pilot or astronaut will be required, Tearne said, because the Dragon is fully autonomous. But passengers will be able to control the spacecraft if required, she said in an email.
The cost will be in line with previous tourist flights, she said. Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid $35 million for a 1 1/2-week space station flight in 2009. He said from orbit that it was “worth every penny and more.”
Like all previous space tourists, he launched on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan.
This private Dragon flight from Cape Canaveral will be shorter, lasting up to five days, according to Tearne.
Based in Vienna, Virginia, Space Adventures helped arrange the flight of the world's first space tourist, Dennis Tito, founder and chairman of Wilshire Associates in California. He flew to the space station on a Russian capsule in 2001, igniting the wrath of top NASA officials who opposed visiting tourists.
The company has arranged eight space missions, with one tourist going twice.
Space Adventures' goal is to create “unique and previously impossible opportunities for private citizens to experience space,” Eric Anderson, company chairman, said in a statement.
NASA has softened its stance on space tourists, and is opening the station doors to paying customers once commercial crew flights by SpaceX and Boeing have been established.
Space Adventures, SpaceX to launch private crew to Gemini heights
A new commercial space mission will fly its passengers higher in Earth orbit than ever before, achieving an altitude last reached by Gemini astronauts more than 50 years ago.
Space Adventures, the only space tourism company to send its clients to the International Space Station, announced on Tuesday (Feb. 18) a new partnership with SpaceX to launch privately-funded customers on the first Crew Dragon free-flyer mission. The spaceflight, targeted for late 2021 to mid-2022, will not dock at the space station, but rather it will circle around Earth at an altitude two to three times greater than the orbiting laboratory.
"Creating unique and previously impossible opportunities for private citizens to experience space is why Space Adventures exists," Eric Anderson, the company's chairman, said in a statement. "This Dragon mission will be a special experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity — capable of reaching twice the altitude of any prior civilian astronaut mission or space station visitor."
SpaceX is currently preparing to launch its first Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts on a demonstration mission to the space station. The company earlier flew an uncrewed demo flight and completed both pad and in-flight abort tests with the new human-rated capsule.
Space Adventures' free-flyer mission will provide up to four crew members with the opportunity to break the world altitude record for a private citizen spaceflight. The current orbital record of 853 miles (1,373 kilometers) was set in September 1966 by Charles "Pete" Conrad and Richard "Dick" Gordon on NASA's Gemini 11 mission. (Apollo astronauts, including Conrad and Gordon, later flew farther from Earth on missions to the moon, but the Gemini 11 record stands for the highest Earth orbit reached by a crewed spacecraft.)
In addition to setting a new record, the Space Adventures mission will also help establish the market for private missions using the Crew Dragon, said SpaceX's president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell.
"This historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it, and we are pleased to work with the Space Adventures' team on the mission," Shotwell said.
The Space Adventures free-flyer mission will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The passengers, who will undergo "a few weeks" of training will be in space for up to five days before splashing down in the ocean.
SpaceX designed the Crew Dragon to fly autonomously with support from its mission control in Hawthorne, California, and with minimal actions required by the crew aboard.
Financial details about the mission were not released. From 2001 to 2009, Space Adventures arranged for the flights of seven of its customers on eight missions to the International Space Station, launching on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, for tens of millions of dollars per seat. Space Adventures has an ongoing agreement with Roscosmos, Russia's federal space agency, to fly two of its clients on a dedicated Soyuz spacecraft to the space station in 2021.
The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) estimated that the Crew Dragon's per seat cost to be $55 million in a report issued in September 2019.
In addition to the Space Adventures mission, SpaceX is also working toward a private flight to the moon using its Starship spacecraft now under development. In 2018, Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa paid an undisclosed amount to reserve the flight, which he dubbed the "#dearMoon" project. In addition to launching on the mission himself, Maezawa said he planned to invite some of his favorite artists to accompany him on the trip.