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SpaceX tourist flights into space may start in 2021

Dragon rocket may take paying customers into high orbit by the end of next year.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which is designed to carry people and cargo into space, is displayed at the SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles, California. SpaceX announced Tuesday that it aims to send as many as four tourists into space perhaps as soon as late 2021. The company hasn’t said what a ticket will cost. (Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images)

SpaceX aims to launch up to four tourists into a super-high orbit, possibly by the end of next year.

The private company is working with Space Adventures for the flight, officials announced Tuesday. Ticket prices have not been announced but are expected to cost millions of dollars.

Space Adventures has helped put tourists into orbit with trips to the International Space Station, working with the Russian space program.

For this trip, paying customers will skip the space station and instead orbit two to three times higher, or roughly 500 miles to 750 miles, above Earth.

It’s a lofty goal that would approach the record 850-mile-high orbit achieved by Gemini 11’s Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon in 1966.

The tourist flight “will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

Elon Musk’s California-based SpaceX already is dabbling in space tourism, signing on a Japanese billionaire to fly to the moon in three or so years. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic also plan tourist trips to space, but these will be brief up-and-downs, not orbital. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

SpaceX will use the same kind of Dragon capsule that will carry NASA astronauts to the space station, possibly in a few months. The capsule has flown once in space so far, making its debut last year in a successful test flight without a crew.

SpaceX rocket built to carry astronauts makes successful test flight

Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne said the tourist flight could occur in the last three months of 2021. The company said it is in discussions with “several potential clients.”

No professional pilot or astronaut will be required, Tearne said, because the Dragon flies itself. But passengers will be able to control the spacecraft if required, she said in an email.

The cost will be in line with previous tourist flights, she said. Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid $35 million for a 1½ -week space station flight in 2009. He said from orbit that it was “worth every penny and more.”

Like all previous space tourists, he launched on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan.

This private Dragon flight from Cape Canaveral will be shorter, lasting up to five days, according to Tearne.

Based in Vienna, Virginia, Space Adventures helped arrange the flight of the world’s first space tourist, Dennis Tito, founder and chairman of Wilshire Associates in California. He flew to the space station on a Russian capsule in 2001, when top NASA officials opposed visiting tourists.

The company has arranged eight space missions, with one tourist going twice.

Space Adventures’ goal is to create “unique and previously impossible opportunities for private citizens to experience space,” Eric Anderson, company chairman, said in a statement.

NASA has softened its stance on space tourists and is opening the station doors to paying customers once commercial crew flights by SpaceX and Boeing have been established.

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