SpaceX has teamed up with a private space tourism company to send up to four private citizens into space.
Space Adventures, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, announced Tuesday that it will work with Elon Musk's firm to host a voyage using the Crew Dragon capsule. The mission, the Crew Dragon's first free-flying mission, could be the first such space tourism trip powered entirely by American spaceflight technology. A launch could take place as early as 2021.
“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,” Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said in a statement.
The mission will use SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable rocket to send up a Crew Dragon capsule. The rocket will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a common launch site for SpaceX's missions. Timing is unclear, but the company suggests a window stretching from late 2021 to mid-2022. Following "a few weeks" of training in the United States, the group will lift off and fly for up to five days.
It could mark a momentous occasion in commercial spaceflight history. Over the course of 2001 to 2009, Space Adventures flew over 36 million miles in eight separate missions. Its clients have non-professional astronauts like Dennis Tito, Richard Garriott, Mark Shuttleworth and others. But all successful orbital missions used Roscosmos Soyuz rockets, and this arrangement was put on hold after the rockets became the only means of reaching the International Space Station.
SpaceX, a private company founded by Musk in 2002, routinely sends satellites and cargo into space but has never flown a human. The Crew Dragon, developed as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, is designed to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station. With this new announcement, the Crew Dragon could also expand human spaceflight and bring tourists along for the ride.
The Space Adventures website failed to load in the wake of the announcement, but the team also shared a video with more details via its YouTube account:
"Honoring our combined histories, 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,” Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, said in a statement.
The company has big plans for the trip. Its official announcement states that the trip will offer the chance to "break the world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight," offering a chance to see Earth like no other human since NASA's Gemini program in the 1960s.
It's not the first time SpaceX has announced plans to send private citizens into space. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa plans to use the under-development Starship to fly around the moon with a team of six to eight artists. The "Dear Moon" voyage is expected to take around five days, and passengers will be encouraged to create art capturing their experience. The mission is scheduled to take place in 2023.
But like the Starship, the Crew Dragon is still under development. The first manned flight could take place as early as the first half of 2020, with SpaceX reportedly looking at May 7 as a possible launch day. But as the project has already experienced delays during development, a further delay is not entirely out of the question.