SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company, primarily makes its money by launching government and private-sector equipment into orbit, but Musk and his company have never been shy about their ambitions for stretching humanity’s reach into space.
The company wants to eventually have the moon and Mars in its sights, but until then, it’s expanding up the space-tourism industry on a smaller scale. Last month, SpaceX announced a deal with Austrian company Space Adventures to put well-funded tourists into a super-high orbit above Earth.
And on Thursday, SpaceX and a startup named Axiom announced a plan to shuttle a professionally trained commander and three “private astronauts” to the International Space Station, drop them off for at least eight days, and return them home.
Axiom, established by NASA’s former ISS program manager and the founder of a major NASA engineering contractor, said the initial launch — the first fully private flight to the station — could happen as early as the second half of 2021.
Moving forward, the company hopes to offer up to two flights per year, depending on NASA’s flight calendar, complete with everything from mission training and management to safety certifications and crew provisions. A price tag wasn’t disclosed, but CNN noted that previous tickets to the ISS ran into the tens of millions of dollars.
Axiom also isn’t shy about its ambitions — while shuttling people back and forth to the ISS, it says it will also be building a space station of its own.
The spacecraft that will serve Axiom’s customers — SpaceX’s Crew Dragon — is expected to bring actual astronauts to the ISS starting this spring, ending years of reliance on Russian-built rockets.