NASA is hoping to host more amateur astronauts at the International Space Station, putting them up for as much as two weeks at a time.
Space tourism is taking off, and NASA wants to continue cashing in on the fun. In January next year, Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission is due to fly a professional astronaut and passengers to the orbiting station for an eight-day stay using a SpaceX rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. And Blue Origin just auctioned off a seat into space next month for $28m.
“This year is truly a renaissance for human spaceflight both as we fly NASA and international partner astronauts on US commercial crew spacecraft to the International Space Station,” said NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development Phil McAlister, referring to SpaceX sending astronauts to the station, "and also as we see the expansion of private astronaut missions.
“As more people fly to space and do more things during their spaceflights, it attracts even more people to do more activities in low-Earth orbit, and reflects the growing market we envisioned when we began the Commercial Crew Program ten years ago.”
By people, he means, billionaires, mainly.
Anyhoo, NASA hopes to partner with third-party businesses to launch two more “private astronaut” missions to the ISS. The first launch will happen no sooner than autumn 2022, and the next one sometime in the middle of 2023 if all goes to plan. The US government space agency is not looking to compete with commercial companies; the goal is to work with them.
Private biz will handle all the transportation to and from the orbiting space lab while NASA provides logistical support, food, and other materials and services for the amateur space travelers to survive onboard. The private astronauts can live in the ISS for up to 14 days, and they are not allowed to get in the way of the professional astronauts working onboard. The launch rocket and vehicle the space travelers will be transported in will have to be approved by NASA, which at this point means SpaceX or the Russians.
Be warned, it won’t be cheap. The space agency will charge $5.2m as the “base cost” for ISS crew time for each mission and another $4.8m for all the planning and mission execution required. Throw in the costs to feed the private astronauts – that’s $2,000 per person per day for freeze-dried food – and up to $1,500 per day for other provisions, like sleeping bags, clothing, and office supplies [office supplies?? – ed.], and the costs quickly rack up. Not to mention the payload mass and disposal fees that can run up to $164,000 a day per person. But, hey, you get 12GB per person per day in data downloads for video and email, etc, for free.
The money earned from space tourism will help fill NASA's coffers, giving it an extra source of income to fund its expensive science missions.
“Enabling private astronaut missions to the International Space Station is part of the agency's goal to develop a robust low-Earth orbit economy where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way,” it explained.
“This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low-Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.” ®