SpaceX on Thursday announced plans to send three tourists to the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission will be the first private trip to space in more than a decade.
The rocket company, founded by billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, signed a deal with startup Axiom Space to send a professionally trained commander along with private astronauts to spend eight days at the ISS. The mission is set to launch by the end of 2021.
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The companies, in a joint statement called this the "first-ever fully private human spaceflight mission" to the ISS.
"This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space — a first for a commercial entity. Procuring the transportation marks significant progress toward that goal, and we're glad to be working with SpaceX in this effort," Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement.
It is not yet clear how much each ticket will cost. But with the cost of launching a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at around $60 million (€53.4 million), plus the cost of building a fresh Dragon capsule, estimated to be over $100 million, the tourists will likely be paying tens of millions for their trip.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon has previously launched NASA satellites into space and is due to launch its first crewed mission this year.
"Thanks to Axiom and their support from NASA, privately crewed missions will have unprecedented access to the space station, furthering the commercialization of space and helping usher in a new era of human exploration," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said.
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This was the second space tourism-related deal announced by the SpaceX in the past month. In February, SpaceX signed a deal with Space Adventures to send four tourists deeper into the orbit than any other private astronaut.
So far, eight tourists have been to the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz rockets. The last one was Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte who went in 2009. The first tourist in space was American engineer Dennis Tito who paid $20 million in 2001 to spend about eight days at the ISS.
Other private companies have also announced their plans to tap into space tourism. Blue Origin by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Virgin Galactic by British entrepreneur Richard Branson have started developing vessels to transport tourists into space. Boeing began developing a crew capsule called Starliner, but the project soon faced major glitches and called off an unmanned test flight in December.