Space tourism is a thrilling advancement in the travel and tourism industry. Once a realm only professional astronauts could access, spending leisure time in outer space has now become a reality for the world’s richest cosmos enthusiasts. Today, various companies are now making holidays in space into a reality and are continually outlining further plans and innovations. Among these renowned institutions is SpaceX, and here let’s discover the space tourism opportunities the company offers, placing the future of space tourism on an even more exciting path.
All About SpaceX
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., more popularly known for its business name SpaceX, is an American satellite communication corporation, spacecraft manufacturer, and space launch provider founded by renowned business magnate and investor Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, SpaceX was formed with the goal of revolutionizing the aerospace industry and reducing space transportation costs.
SpaceX debuted in the aerospace arena via Falcon 1, the company’s first orbital launch vehicle. It was an expendable two-stage liquid-fueled spacecraft devised for sending small satellites into Earth’s orbit. While the company used internal funding, it was immensely cheaper to manufacture and operate than its rivals composed of government-funded and publicly-owned companies. One of the main advantages of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 was its own-developed Merlin engine, which became a less costly option.
From there, SpaceX started massive popularity, which was supported by several other historic milestones. In 2010, they launched the Dragon spacecraft, a capsule designed for carrying supplies and astronauts to the ISS (International Space Station). It was launched via the Falcon 9, the successor of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle.
By the end of the year, SpaceX etched another accomplishment in the history of the aerospace industry, with the unmanned Dragon spacecraft successfully returning to Earth, making it the first private spacecraft to do so. It landed in the Pacific Ocean, just a few hundred miles off the Mexico coast.
Two years later, SpaceX sent the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Astronauts from the ISS utilized a robotic arm in pulling the capsule toward the station’s docking port. Such an event made SpaceX the first private company to ever dock at the ISS. From then, Dragon was sent numerous times to the ISS for NASA’s supply mission.
Other notable achievements of SpaceX include the first rocket booster landing in 2015, the first drone-ship landing in 2016, the first company to relaunch a used rocket in 2017, and the first-ever privately funded lunar mission in 2019, and its first-ever astronaut launch in 2020 made them the first private company to take humans to orbit and to the International Space Station.
SpaceX Space Tourism Opportunities
Proving itself as a reliable private spaceflight company, SpaceX won’t be left out getting on board in the emerging space tourism industry. Unlike its competitors, however, the company is focused on space tourism opportunities like lunar landings, sending people to ISS, space travel past the Earth’s orbit, and also hoping to reach Mars and beyond.
In September 2021, SpaceX brought space tourism closer to veracity through the Inspiration4 mission. Entrepreneur Jared Isaacman organized and funded the flight, which carried him and three other participants: physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, data engineer Chris Sembroski, and geoscientist Dr. Sian Proctor. It was the world’s first all-civilian space mission as the crew members didn’t receive any formal astronaut training prior to the flight.
Unlike the earlier flights of its competitors Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin which only featured suborbital launches that shortly returned to Earth after a few minutes, SpaceX used more powerful space vehicles in Inspiration that took passengers all the way to the orbit and circled the Earth for three days.
At 590 kilometers (367 miles) above Earth, the Inspiration4 space flyers reached the highest altitude humans have ever achieved after the 1999 Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. That’s even a higher view than the astronauts in the ISS, which are at only 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the planet.
What’s even great is that social outreach has been an integral part of the mission as the trip aimed to raise money and promote St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Thus, making space tourism more relatable.
In April 2022, space tourism took a giant leap when SpaceX successfully sent three-paying customers to the International Space Station using the Dragon spacecraft via the Ax-1 mission.
Brokered by Axiom Space, a Texas-based startup, the mission was launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Passengers were boarding Michael Lopez-Alegría, a former NASA employee now AxiomSpace employee who commanded the mission, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, Israeli entrepreneur Eytan Stibbe, and real estate magnate Larry Connor.
The Ax-1 mission was the first all-civilian flight to dock at the International Space Station. The flight is in accordance with the private sector’s and the US government’s vision of promoting space tourism activities to the ISS and beyond for people who can afford the trip worth tens of millions.
Upon arriving, the passengers were welcomed by the seven professional astronauts already staying in the ISS including a German astronaut, three Russian cosmonauts, and three NASA astronauts.
Unlike brief supersonic flights from other companies, crew members underwent extensive training quite similar to professional astronauts. Moreover, each has a list of research projects they planned to work on in partnership with several hospitals, some conservation-awareness initiatives, and a non-profit foundation.
Yet, parts of the benefits were the opportunity to eat meals in space alongside professional astronauts inside the football-field-sized ISS, and of course, witness unparalleled, marvelous views of Earth from space.
Gone are the days when space tourism was only bounded by telescopes, space-focused museums, or watching rocket launches. With technology’s ceaseless advancement and continuous research and development made by various commercial operators like SpaceX, it’s very likely that we will see even wider and better opportunities in the coming years apart from suborbital, orbital, and lunar tourism
While it can be prohibitively expensive, there might be a time when visiting space will become commonplace and fortunate humans can continue spending fascinating leisure pursuits in space.