Space Adventures to fly tourists on Crew Dragon mission

Space

WASHINGTON — 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.

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 as soon as late 2021, would set a new “world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight” by flying at least twice as high as of the station.

“Honoring 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,” Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, said in a statement.

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.

“This mission profile provides opportunity to break a world record,” company spokesperson Stacy Tearne told SpaceNews. “It would be the first private mission to space with all fare-paying participants and the first private mission utilizing all American developed space technology.”

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.”

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. Tearne said the mission would launch as soon as the fourth quarter of 2021, depending on when it signs up customers.

Training would take place in the United States, and require just a few weeks, the company stated in the video. Soyuz flights to the ISS required private spaceflight participants to train for up to six months, primarily in Russia.

Space Adventures did not disclose the ticket price for a flight, although Tearne said that the cost will be “in the range as other orbital 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.

In addition to its agreement with SpaceX, Space Adventures has an existing arrangement with Boeing to sell seats on CST-100 Starliner missions to the ISS. Tearne confirmed that agreement remains in place.

Space Adventures arranged flights of seven people on eight trips to the ISS (one customer, Charles Simonyi, flew twice) 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.

“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.

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