SpaceX will send three tourists to the International Space Station next year

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SpaceX will send three tourists on a 10-day trip to the International Space Station sometime in late 2021. It’ll use its Falcon 9 rocket and its new Crew Dragon spacecraft, the company announced on Thursday. This marks the second big space tourism announcement from the company this year.

The orbital vacation is part of a deal that SpaceX signed with Houston-based startup Axiom Space, which will manage the logistics of the trip for the three private citizens. While seven private citizens have spent time on the ISS (one of them even went twice), this mission will be the first fully private trip to the ISS.

The space tourists will spend two days traveling to and from the orbital space station and at least eight days on board, sharing space with the astronauts who work there. Tickets will cost around $55 million, and one seat is already booked, according to The New York Times. The trip was made possible after NASA announced last year that it would start opening up the ISS to more commercial activities like space tourism.

SpaceX has spent the last few years building a new version of its Dragon spacecraft that’s rated for human flight as part of a program to send NASA astronauts to the ISS. The private spaceflight company recently completed a second major flight test of this new version of Dragon where it demonstrated the ability to escape an exploding rocket. The first flight with NASA astronauts is expected to take place later this year.

But SpaceX isn’t just focused on being a taxi for astronauts. The company is increasingly embracing space tourism as a potential revenue stream. Just last month, SpaceX announced that it is working with space tourism company Space Adventures to send up to four private citizens into orbit around the Earth sometime in late 2021 or early 2022.

Off-world tourism, in general, is attracting a lot more interest and investment lately now that multiple private companies have demonstrated the ability to reach space. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic recently became the first publicly traded space tourism company, with plans to offer multiple people a few minutes of weightlessness in its massive spaceplane for a few hundred thousand dollars. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company, is promising a similarly brief experience to tourists who ride to space on its New Shepard rocket.

So far, what SpaceX is offering appears to be far more substantial than either of those options — hence the higher price tag. The company has even bigger plans, too, with a tourist trip around the Moon slated for sometime in the next few years as well as ambitions to send people to Mars.

As for Axiom, the startup says there could be more trips to the ISS after this one. “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 – a first for a commercial entity. Procuring the transportation marks significant progress toward that goal, and we’re glad to be working with SpaceX in this effort.”

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