The American space company SpaceX announced Monday a partnership to send up to four private customers in space by 2022, a mission which will undoubtedly cost more than 100 million dollars but whose price remains secret.
SpaceX has signed an agreement with Space Adventures, based near Washington, which has mediated in the past to send seven wealthy space tourists on eight missions to the International Space Station (ISS), using seats purchased from the Russian space agency in Soyuz rockets.
The first was Dennis Tito in 2001, who paid $ 20 million for an eight-day stay at the ISS. The most recent was the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, in 2009.
This time, SpaceX will launch its tourists from Cape Canaveral in Florida aboard its Crew Dragon capsule, which it has developed to transport NASA astronauts and which should make its first human flight in a few months, at a date not yet fixed .
But this private flight will not dock at the ISS: Dragon will fly in orbit of the Earth for several days, five at most, told AFP the president of Space Adventures, Tom Shelley.
"Our goal is to go about two to three times the altitude of the space station," he said, 800 to 1,200 kilometers. What will offer a new sight.
At the earliest, the mission will take place in late 2021, according to Tom Shelley, but "most likely is in 2022".
The capsule will accommodate four passengers. Designed to shuttle between Earth and the ISS, it is not intended for long-term stays: it has nine cubic meters of pressurized volume and has no private space for sleeping, washing, relieving oneself ....
The exact duration will depend on what the passengers want, says Tom Shelley, noting that the Apollo control module, with which the astronauts returned from the Moon, was even more confined (6 cubic meters).
- Weeks of training -
How much will the ticket cost? "It's not cheap," says Tom Shelley in an understatement.
But the cost will be at least that of launching by a Falcon 9 rocket (public price: $ 62 million), plus the manufacture of the Dragon capsule. Will it exceed $ 100 million?
"Your assessment is correct, but I cannot comment specifically on these figures," said the boss.
"We have a good network of wealthy people around the world, many of whom would like to fly into space someday," says Tom Shelley. "You just have to find the right mission, at the right time, for the right person."
Unlike missions to the ISS, passenger training will be counted in weeks and will be done in the United States. For Soyuz, tourists had to train in Moscow for five to six months.
After 12 years of interruption, a new flight of two private tourists to the ISS aboard a Russian rocket is planned for the end of 2021, via Space Adventures.
This company had also proudly announced, in 2005, the sending of two tourists around the Moon ... But Tom Shelley confirms that this mission has been put aside.
In the space tourism sector, the companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are developing vessels capable of sending just over the border of space (80 or 100 km depending on the definitions chosen by each company), for a few minutes, private passengers, for 250,000 dollars or more in the case of Virgin.
What SpaceX offers is a much more ambitious mission, launched by a Falcon 9 rocket, the same one which sends satellites and will transport astronauts.
"This historic mission will pave the way for spaceflight for everyone who dreams of it," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, a company founded by Elon Musk.
At the same time, Boeing is also developing a vehicle for NASA, Starliner, to join the ISS. Boeing wants private passengers to travel there in the future, but the development of Starliner is hampered by major software problems that almost caused its loss during an unmanned test mission in December.
© 2020 AFP