SpaceX announced today that it will fly two space tourists around the Moon by late 2018. The proposed tourism flight will be using the yet-unflown Falcon Heavy rocket and the yet-uncertified Crew Dragon capsule. With none of the core mission hardware currently tested in space conditions, the mission timeline is highly ambitious.
Fly me to the moon … Okhttps://t.co/6QT8m5SHwn
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 27, 2017
SpaceX plans for the two tourists to go on a one-week mission in orbit around the Moon and to return to Earth without landing on the lunar surface. SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, declined to comment on the identities of the two potential space tourists. Musk estimates the price per ticket at $30 million.
The proposed mission profile is similar to NASA’s plan for the Exploration Mission 1 test flight of its Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. Rumors are swirling that NASA may bump forward its development milestones by loading astronauts on the first test flight currently scheduled for September 2018.
— Ariel Waldman (@arielwaldman) February 27, 2017
The Crew Dragon was developed as part of SpaceX’s contract with NASA to provide commercial crew transport to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft is used for commercial cargo runs and is the only uncrewed spacecraft capable of returning completed scientific experiments from the station back to Earth. It has carried live animals and plants to and from the space station and is currently undergoing certification for human spaceflight. SpaceX intends to launch an uncrewed demonstration mission of the Crew Dragon in late 2017 with the first human flight currently anticipated in early 2018.
Propulsive hover tests of our Dragon 2 vehicle that can carry crew and cargo. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is in development for its first test flight in the Summer of 2017. Once operational, the heavy-lift rocket will be capable of producing enough thrust to carry over 54 metric tons — ten elephants or a fully-loaded passenger jet — into orbit. The Falcon Heavy rocket builds off SpaceX’s successful Falcon 9 reusable rocket, using three of the Falcon 9 cores for its first stage. The heavy lift rocket is essential for SpaceX’s plans for crewed deep space missions. The Falcon Heavy will launch out of the recently-renovated Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX started launching from Pad 39A earlier this month.
The Falcon Heavy first stage will use three Falcon 9 cores to produce over 2,000 metric tons of liftoff thrust. Credit: SpaceX
Though Musk was excited to announce this ambitious timeline, he was also clear that any private spaceflight missions would be secondary to NASA’s missions. He clarified that tourism using the Crew Dragon would not begin until after SpaceX successfully delivered on its existing NASA commercial crew transportation contract. Even with potential delays, one thing clear. Every day is one step closer to the Era of Space Tourism.