Investing in Space

SpaceX signs deal to fly 3 space tourists to the International Space Station late next year

Key Points
  • Houston-based start-up Axiom has signed a deal with SpaceX to fly three privately paying space tourists to the International Space Station.
  • The 10-day mission is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2021, Axiom said, and will use a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and a Falcon 9 rocket.
  • The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station.
NASA

The most expensive flying laboratory soon will moonlight again as a space hotel.

Houston-based start-up Axiom has signed a deal with SpaceX to fly three privately paying space tourists to the International Space Station, the companies announced Thursday. The mission is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2021, Axiom said, and will use a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and a Falcon 9 rocket.

Crew Dragon is a capsule SpaceX has been developing for NASA. The spacecraft is built to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, a capability the U.S. has lacked for nearly a decade. SpaceX plans to launch its first NASA astronauts between April and June.

This mission will last 10 days – with two days of travel and eight days on board the space station – and will include an Axiom "commander" to assist the three customers. Axiom said it will announce the members of the crew at a later date.

And, while tourists have flown to the ISS before, Axiom says this will be "the first-ever fully private" trip to the space station.

"This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space," Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement. "This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space."

Suffredini led the ISS program for NASA for a decade until 2015, shortly after which he co-founded Axiom. The company's website offers private missions to the ISS ranging between 10 days to 180 days, with Axiom providing all the services necessary – from training to management and more. Axiom was also recently selected by NASA to build an addition to the ISS, which would be a large habitat that would attach to the space station for research and more.

A close up of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule sitting on top of the company's Falcon 9 rocket, with the crew access arm extended.
SpaceX

The mission will likely launch from Florida, where SpaceX has made several infrastructure investments to launchpad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center so the company can fly crews.

"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 and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has a starting price tag of $62 million and NASA expects to pay a per seat cost of $55 million when the agency begins flying astronauts with Crew Dragon later this year. Additionally, SpaceX last year had an agreement with Bigelow Aerospace to fly individuals to the ISS for about $52 million per person – although Bigelow later withdrew from the deal.

NASA in 2019 announced that it would open the ISS to "private astronaut missions of up to 30 days," saying that it would begin at a rate of two flights a year. NASA would get $35,000 a night for each astronaut, as compensation for the agency's services a tourist would need while on board the ISS.

The interior of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule
SpaceX

SpaceX last month unveiled a separate space tourism deal with Space Adventures, a company that's flown a few private citizens to the ISS using Russian spacecraft. That Space Adventures mission will not fly to the space station, however. Instead it will be a "free-flying" mission, where four private tourists will orbit the Earth at about two to three times the altitude of the ISS.

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