SpaceX and Space Adventures Ink Deal on Crew Dragon Tourist Flight

SpaceX and Space Adventures Ink Deal on Crew Dragon Tourist Flight

SpaceX and Space Adventures announced today that they have signed an agreement to fly private citizens to orbit on one of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.  The four space tourists would not dock at the International Space Station (ISS), but remain in space for up to 5 days on a free-flying mission.  The asking price was not revealed.

SpaceX is developing Crew Dragon as part of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with NASA to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.  From the beginning, the hope and intention was that SpaceX, and Boeing with its Starliner capsule, would find additional non-government customers to turn these ventures into successful businesses.

The announcement today is a step along that path, but is only for the first free-flying Crew Dragon.  In a video accompanying the announcement, the companies indicated it will take place in late 2021 or 2022. Four people will be aboard the completely automated flight, which will last up to 5 days and travel to an altitude higher than the ISS.   “A few weeks” of training in the United States will be required.

Space Adventures has already arranged trips to space on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for wealthy individuals not sponsored by a government.  Although they are officially referred to as spaceflight participants, most just call them tourists.

All the Soyuz tourists visited the ISS for missions of about one week.  The first was American billionaire Dennis Tito in 2001.  The actual prices for these flights are pretty much kept under wraps by all concerned but media reports put Tito’s flight at $20 million.  A more recent trip by Cirque de Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté in 2009 was said to cost $35 million.

All in all, seven tourists made eight trips (an American, Charles Simonyi, went twice) to ISS on Soyuz spacecraft.  Four were American (Tito, Simonyi, Richard Garriott and Greg Olsen).  The other three were American/Iranian (Anousheh Ansari), Canadian (Laliberté), and South African (Mark Shuttleworth). Each had to train in Russia for several months.

Pointing to his company’s achievements in arranging the flights on Soyuz and SpaceX’s in developing Crew Dragon, Space Adventures Chairman Eric Anderson said in a statement: “Honoring our combined histories, this Dragon mission will be a special experience and once in a life-time opportunity – capable of reaching twice the altitude of any prior civilian mission or space station visitor.”

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell added that this “historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it…”

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk separately has a deal with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to make a tourist flight around the Moon in 2023 on the company’s Starship (formerly Big Falcon Rocket–BFR).  How much Maezawa is paying is a mystery.

Although what was announced today does not involve the ISS, NASA is trying to facilitate the commercialization of low Earth orbit by making such opportunities available.  NASA strongly objected when Russia began flying tourists to the ISS, but has come around to the idea.  In July 2019, NASA said it will allow two tourist flights per year to the ISS and issued a pricing policy spelling out how much it will charge the companies — about $35,000 per person per night.

That does not include the cost of getting to and from ISS.  That is up to SpaceX and any other companies, like Boeing, offering such services. What SpaceX will charge tourists was not revealed today.  According to a NASA Inspector General report last year, NASA will be paying SpaceX about $55 million per seat for flights to the ISS, but whether it will charge that much to private citizens remains to be seen.

The announcement today was fairly tentative, in fact, saying this whole thing will happen “if” customers are found.

First, however, SpaceX needs to get Crew Dragon certified for NASA missions to ISS.  Its crewed flight test, Demo-2, is expected in the April-June time period.

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