SpaceX Crew Dragon Will Fly Space Tourists on Falcon 9 for Space Adventures

SpaceX just inked its first deal to launch
space tourists into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft. The private spaceflight company founded by
billionaire Elon Musk has signed an agreement with the U.S. space tourism company Space
Adventures to launch passengers on an orbital trip aboard a Crew Dragon space capsule. Space Adventures announced Feb. 18 that it
has an agreement with SpaceX to fly a dedicated Crew Dragon mission that would send four space
tourists on a mission to a relatively high Earth orbit. The trip will not visit the International
Space Station but would instead fly into an orbit above the station’s altitude of about
260 miles (420 kilometers) above Earth as a free-flying spacecraft. Virginia-based Space Adventures, best known
for arranging flights of private individuals to the International Space Station on Soyuz
spacecraft, said its planned mission, scheduled for space tourists on a standalone mission
aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2021 or 2022, would set a new “world altitude
record for private citizen spaceflight” by flying at least an altitude two-to-three
times higher than the International Space Station. Space Adventures arranged flights of seven
people on eight trips to the ISS using seats available on Soyuz flights from 2001 through
2009. Those flights ended when Soyuz missions became
used exclusively for transporting crews to and from the station. Space Adventures did have another customer
for an ISS flight, singer Sarah Brightman, who was to fly to the ISS when a seat became
available as part of a “one-year” mission on the station in 2015. Brightman, though, backed out several months
before the mission, citing “personal family reasons.” A cosmonaut from Kazakhstan flew in her place. In this video Engineering Today will discuss
SpaceX partnership with Space Adventures to fly private citizens on SpaceX crew dragon
capsule. SpaceX looks to launch space tourists to record
heights. Let’s get into details. “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,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief
operating officer of SpaceX, in a statement about the company’s agreement with Space
Adventures. In a video Space Adventures published at the
same time as its release Feb. 18, it said the mission would last for five days, launching
between late 2021 and mid 2022 from Cape Canaveral. Stacy Tearne, company spokesperson said the
mission would launch as soon as the fourth quarter of 2021, depending on when it signs
up customers. The passengers would undergo a training period
of a few weeks in the United States, the company said. Soyuz flights to the ISS required private
spaceflight participants to train for up to six months, primarily in Russia. While not explicitly stated, the comments
by Space Adventures indicate that the four spaceflight participants on the mission will
be the only people on board the Crew Dragon, with no pilot or other professional astronauts
as crew. The company’s statement notes that the Crew
Dragon is “fully autonomous” and SpaceX has said the capsule is currently capable
of flying with only four passengers, assuming no major modifications. For tourists, skipping the International Space
Station means simpler maneuvers and less risk, but limits the time they can spend in space. Previous Space Adventures passengers have
spent more than a week in orbit, but the Dragon’s supply of oxygen and propellant will run out
sooner. The shorter trip will save passengers money:
NASA says any visitors to the ISS will have to pay about $35,000 per day spent on the
station. NASA officials suggested that the cost of
flying to the ISS as a paying passenger would be around $58 million per person. It’s possible that the cost of the Dragon
flight could be lower, however, due to a simplified mission and the reuse of a previously flown
rocket booster and Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX or Space Adventures did not announce
exact pricing for the Crew Dragon tourist flight, but the cost per seat is expected
to be in the same range of other commercial spaceflight opportunities. In June 2019, Bigelow Aerospace announced
it had paid “substantial” deposits and reservations fees for four Crew Dragon missions
to the ISS, and planned to sell seats on those flights for $52 million each. Though, Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures,
suggested on Twitter that the price per seat could be less than $50 million. Responding to a question on Twitter about
a possible price tag of $52 million per seat, Anderson tweeted: “Per seat price for a
full group of four not quite that much (not dramatically less, but significant enough
to note). Definitive pricing confidential, and dependent
on client specific requests, etc.” Anderson also tweeted that the training regimen
for the Crew Dragon flight will be “significantly less than the few months required for previous
missions or ISS missions.” “Dragon in this profile allows up to 5 days,”
Anderson tweeted. “3 days is probably ideal, 40-50 orbits
or so.” The ISS orbits at an altitude of about 410
kilometers. Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures,
said in a tweet that the goal of the Crew Dragon mission was to reach an altitude of
more than 1,000 kilometers, approaching the record for a crewed orbital flight set by
Gemini 11 in 1966, which briefly flew in an orbit with an apogee of 1,374 kilometers. Anderson tweeted that Space Adventures is
in discussions with several potential customers. But for timing, it’s likely that the free-flying
Crew Dragon flight will launch only after SpaceX begins flying NASA astronauts to and
from the International Space Station. Those trips are expected to begin later this
year. “It’s a new concept, as people become
more familiar and educated, more qualified candidates will emerge,” he tweeted. “Firm commitments likelier after first crew
launch in a couple months.” To date, Space Adventures has arranged orbital
trips to the International Space Station for seven wealthy customers: Dennis Tito in 2001;
South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth in 2002; American entrepreneurs Greg Olsen
in 2005 and Anousheh Ansari in 2006; Microsoft co-founder Charles Simonyi in 2007 and 2009;
computer game developer Richard Garriott in 2008; and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte
in 2009. Space Adventures booked the ride of Dennis
Tito, the first private space tourist to fly to the space station, in 2001 for roughly
$20 million. Developed in a public-private partnership
with NASA, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is one of two commercial crew taxis designed
to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner vehicle is the
other human-rated spacecraft. In addition to its agreement with SpaceX,
Space Adventures has an existing arrangement with Boeing in 2010 to sell seats on CST-100
Starliner missions to the ISS. SpaceX has been developing the Dragon spacecraft
since 2011. The Dragon completed its last major test in
January. With a final crewed flight test expected as
soon as May, the private firm is confident enough to begin advertising the vehicle for
private use. Both Boeing and SpaceX crew ships can also
perform other missions in low Earth orbit, serving customers beyond NASA. In 2019, NASA said it would allow private
companies to begin shuttling paying passengers to the International Space Station. The space agency’s program to send its own
astronauts to the ISS, however, has been delayed because of problems with Boeing’s contribution. As a result, NASA will likely use the space
available on private spacecraft to get its own personnel to the ISS first. The Crew Dragon is expected to be the first
commercial ship to carry astronauts into orbit. A test flight with two NASA astronaut on-board
could take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as soon as May 7 and dock with
the space station hours later, marking the first spaceflight into orbit from U.S. soil
since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011. In December, Boeing launched an uncrewed test
flight of its own Starliner capsule, but it failed to reach the space station due to software
and communications issues. A schedule for the first piloted Starliner
demonstration mission is uncertain as Boeing and NASA engineers investigate the software
bugs. Boeing and NASA are investigating that flight
to determine if another uncrewed flight will be required. NASA’s inspector general reported in November
that the agency is estimated to pay around $55 million per round-trip seat on a Crew
Dragon spacecraft to the space station. For comparison, a seat on Boeing’s Starliner
was estimated to cost around $90 million, and NASA has paid more than $80 million per
round-trip ticket on Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA will stop paying Russia for Soyuz seats
once the commercial crew capsules are declared operational, a milestone that will come after
the initial piloted test flights. At that point, Russia’s space agency and
NASA will begin operating under a new barter arrangement, where Russian astronauts ride
on U.S. vehicles and U.S. astronauts fly on Soyuz capsules, with no exchange of money. Meanwhile, Space Adventures is also working
with Roscosmos to fly two space tourists to the International Space Station on a dedicated
Soyuz spacecraft in 2021. Roscosmos announced the agreement with Space
Adventures last year.

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