Updated SpaceX has pledged to carry up to four passengers into Earth orbit aboard its autonomous Crew Dragon capsule – its first crewed mission for private space tourism – as early as 2021.
The program is part of the deal with Space Adventures, a commercial spaceflight company based in Virginia, USA. The tourism business, which previously ferried seven space tourists to the International Space Station using Soyuz craft, will team up with Elon's Musketeers to send well-heeled wanderers into a wide orbit – and return safely to Earth.
“Space Adventures, Inc has entered into an agreement with SpaceX to fly private citizens on the first Crew Dragon free-flyer mission,” it announced on Tuesday.
“This will provide up to four individuals with the opportunity to break the world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight, and see planet Earth the way no one has since the Gemini program.”
Gemini was NASA’s second human spaceflight program, and sent pairs of astronauts – thus the name of the program – up into the heavens to prepare for the Apollo Moon landings.
“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,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO.
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Measuring just over eight metres in height and four metres across, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule can house up to seven passengers at a pinch. The mission with Space Adventures will only take up to four moneybags on the flight.
“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.
Judging by its previous clients, who have all been wealthy tech entrepreneurs, you’ll have to have deep pockets to afford a ride on the Crew Dragon: trips to the ISS cost at least $20m. The crew will spend up to five days in space without visiting the International Space Station, we’re told.
It won’t be SpaceX’s first ever crewed flight, however. In January, SpaceX launched test flights for its Crew Dragon capsule and is expected to send NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to space in May, once NASA signs off on the hardware. ®
Updated to add
We double-checked with Space Adventures whether a human pilot will join the passengers on the planned trip, and we were told: no.
"This mission on Crew Dragon will fly fully autonomously," a spokesperson said. "The passengers will be familiar with the system to be able to control the spacecraft if required."
So, if you're a multimillionaire and book your ticket, remember to do your lessons before you leave. Otherwise, the trip may afford a very brief first-hand view of, as Musk puts it, "rapid, unscheduled disassembly," if you don't have the right stuff.