SpaceX announces partnership to send 4 tourists into deep orbit

James Marshall
February 19, 2020

The private company is working with Space Adventures Inc. for the flight, officials announced Tuesday.

The announcement comes after SpaceX sent their Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for the first time in March 2019 and then successfully tested a simulated rocket failure on January 19, proving its preparedness to send people into orbit with Space Adventures. Past trips into orbit onboard Soyuz rockets have lasted a week or more and cost tens of millions of dollars, and the company has scheduled one trip with Roscosmos to the ISS for a pair of tourists in 2021. Its experience means it's uniquely positioned in the commercial space tourism industry to actually make this happen, which means SpaceX likely will start flying paying customers as soon as its able to human-rate its Dragon spacecraft and begin scheduling flights.

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.

Gwynne Shotwell, chief operations officer of SpaceX, described it as a "historic mission" that would "forge a path for making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it".

The Space Adventures deal is a win for CEO Elon Musk's commercial space unit, but may cause tension between existing clients who have previously accused the billionaire of putting his space tourism ambitions ahead of commitments for routine space launches.

This year, SpaceX is set to launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon for the first time.

That would place it well beyond what Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin are offering private customers.

While SpaceX has been working hard to deliver a safe, reliable method of transporting astronauts into space for NASA, there's always been the question of how long it would take before any company, including SpaceX, embraced space tourism.

No professional pilot or astronaut will be required, Tearne said, because the Dragon is fully autonomous. 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.

The company has arranged eight space missions, with one tourist going twice.

"The price of the mission will not be disclosed, but will be in the range as other orbital spaceflight opportunities", a spokesperson for Space Adventures told The Register.

Like SpaceX, Boeing also envisages sending tourists into space, but the program's development is hampered by major glitches that resulted in the early termination of an uncrewed test flight in December.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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