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SpaceX to fly tourists into deeper orbit

China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-20 07:33

US space company SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes acoustic testing in Florida. SPACEX/AP

Ticket prices are not being divulged, but expected to be in the millions

WASHINGTON-SpaceX announced a new partnership on Tuesday for a venture that will send four tourists deeper into orbit than any private citizen before them, in a mission that could take place by 2022 and easily cost more than $100 million.

The company signed the deal with Space Adventures, which is based in Washington and served as an intermediary to send eight space tourists to the International Space Station, or ISS, via Russian Soyuz rockets.

The first of these was Dennis Tito, who paid $20 million for an eight-hour stay on the ISS in 2001.The last to go was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, in 2009.

The new tourists would be carried on SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, which was developed to transport NASA astronauts and is due to make its first crewed flight in the coming months.

Space Adventures said the mission would last five days and is expected to launch between "late-2021 and mid-2022," flying up to four passengers into space to Earth orbit.

"This is a free-flyer mission. No visit to the ISS. Will attempt to reach two to three times higher altitude than station," said Eric Anderson, founder of Space Adventures.

"At an altitude of three times the ISS, the view is 10 times," said Anderson. The average altitude of ISS orbit is about 400 kilometers.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement: "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."

The capsule was designed to take astronauts from the surface to the ISS. With just nine square meters in volume, there are no private areas to sleep wash or use the bathroom.

Asked about the cost, Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventure, said: "It's not cheap."

The cost of launching a Falcon 9 rocket is $62 million, according to publicly available figures. Then there will be the cost of building a fresh Dragon capsule. Could it exceed $100 million?

"Your assessment is correct, I can't comment specifically on the numbers, but yeah those are the cost components," he said.

"We have a pretty good network of high-net-worth individuals around the world, many of whom we know are interested in spaceflight."

Weeks of training

Unlike space tourism to the ISS, which required six months of training in Moscow, the next mission will need four weeks of participation in the United States.

After a gap of 12 years, Space Adventures also wants to send two more tourists to the ISS on board a Russian rocket in 2021.

Back in 2005, the company announced, amid great fanfare, that it planned to send two tourists around the moon-but that mission has now been abandoned, Shelley said.

Other companies involved in space tourism are Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

The two are developing vessels to send tourists just beyond the border of space (80 km or 100 km, depending on the definitions chosen by both). Tickets for Virgin started at $250,000 when they first went on sale in the mid 2000s.

SpaceX's offering is far more ambitious and powered by the same reusable Falcon 9 rocket that puts satellites into space and send astronauts to the ISS.

At the same time, Boeing is also developing a crew capsule called Starliner, also with the intention of transporting US astronauts to the ISS.

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.


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