SpaceX has signed an agreement with space tourism company Space Adventures to potentially use its Crew Dragon spacecraft take space tourists out of Earth’s atmosphere. Those spacecraft are the same ones that will be used by NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president, 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.”
Founded in 1998, Space Adventures acts as the middleman between spaceflight companies and parties interested in going to space. Between 2001 and 2009, the company arranged eight separate spaceflights for seven private customers through Russian space agency Roscosmos. On those flights, the tourists flew on Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to approximately week-long visits to the ISS, where they observed routine ISS operations and assisted with science experiments.
Under the new agreement, SpaceX has agreed to fly four private individuals with the Crew Dragon serving as its own miniature outpost in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The tourists would remain in LEO for several days before returning to Earth. The proposed flights will have no affiliation or involvement with NASA or Roscosmos. It’s not clear how much the orbital flight will cost each of the four tourists.
According to public analyses made over the last few years, NASA is likely to pay around $400 million for each Crew Dragon launch. That figure includes a brand new Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for each launch, along with costs associated with operations and processing. The costs for the tourist flights could be hundreds of millions of dollars less if SpaceX can reuse many of its main components, translating to a cost of $25-50 million per person if all four seats are filled.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is about two to three months away from SpaceX’s inaugural launch to send NASA astronauts to the ISS. Currently expected to begin in May, the mission will be the first manned launch in NASA’s Commercial Crew program. For that mission, two NASA astronauts will be sent to the ISS to perform a number of tasks and experiments before returning to Earth after several weeks or months.