The company will allow the Earth’s richest to buy seats aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft which will be sent into space by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket - the same method that will be used to transport US astronauts to the International Space Station. However, civilians won’t visit the ISS or anywhere else for that matter. Instead, they will be treated to a journey orbiting above Earth - higher than the ISS - before dropping back down to the planet. The Wombats must be jealous.
While SpaceX’s biggest innovation so far has come in the form of reusable rockets that dramatically decrease the cost of space travel, a ticket for this mission could still cost tens of millions of dollars. A ballpark can be found from the $52 million per person deal that SpaceX had with Bigelow Aerospace last year, though this was to fly individuals directly to the ISS. But for now, uncertainty continues to surround the actual cost of the journey.
Further uncertainty is added into the mix thanks to departure date: while SpaceX plans to launch its first NASA astronauts between April and June of this year, the launch for paying customers is tentatively set at the end of 2021. If the timekeeping of owner Elon Musk’s automotive company Tesla is anything to go by, this likely could extend even further into the future. Space Adventures, the booking agent that has partnered with SpaceX, has stated that the trip will last for five days once underway.
SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement that “[t]his 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 fortunate few who reserve places on this journey will reach the highest altitude ever achieved by a private citizen. Accompanying this will be a far more expansive view of Earth than what’s been on offer with the near-orbit trips to the likes of the ISS in recent years. If the mission goes to plan, they will have a view of Earth not seen by astronauts in decades.
Sharing the statement with Shotwell, Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, said that "[h]onoring our combined histories, this Dragon mission will be a special experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity - capable of reaching twice the altitude of any prior civilian astronaut mission or space station visitor".
This commercial project clearly puts SpaceX in direct competition with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and even NASA. And while Elon Musk continues to delve into controversy, not least due to the increasingly-contested idea of billionaires, this is a clear next step in his ambitions for a brighter, better, more optimistic future, whether that is in pursuit of profit or not.