Elon Musk: SpaceX is going to launch 2 space tourists ‘beyond the moon’
- SpaceX plans to launch two paying customers around the moon in late 2018.
- The company, founded by Elon Musk, plans to use its new Dragon 2 space capsule and Falcon Heavy rockets to complete the mission.
- The trip would take about a week and may cost more than $300 million.
- Musk says he’d give the first mission to NASA instead of private investors if the space agency desires.
During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Elon Musk said SpaceX will launch two private investors on a roughly one-week mission around the moon.
“I hope this gets people really excited about sending people into deep space again,” Musk said.
The two passengers aren’t ready to disclose their identity or other details about their background, Musk said. However, he did say the two prospective space tourists knew each other, were private citizens — though not anyone “from Hollywood” — and were “very serious” about making the trip.
“They have placed a significant deposit,” Musk said.
While Musk would not disclose the mission’s cost, saying it was confidential, he estimated the price at a “little more” than a crewed flight to and from the International Space Station aboard a Dragon 2 spacecraft.
According to a presentation given by a NASA official in May 2016, each seat aboard a Dragon 2 should cost $58 million. While the space agency plans to fly about four astronauts per ISS mission, SpaceX’s ship can seat up to seven people — bringing the per-mission cost to roughly $230 million, or possibly in excess of $300 million.
“There’s a market for at least one or two of these per year,” Musk said, adding that lunar flyby missions might eventually constitute 10% to 20% of SpaceX’s revenue each year.
Musk flagged one important caveat, however.
“If NASA desires to have this mission,” he said, “NASA would take priority.”
NASA, which has contracted SpaceX for crew and cargo flights to the ISS, told Business Insider in an emailed statement that it “commends its industry partners for reaching higher.”
However, NASA seemed to indicate that it plans to continue developing its own hardware for deep-space missions.
“NASA is changing the way it does business through its commercial partnerships to help build a strong American space economy and free the agency to focus on developing the next-generation rocket, spacecraft, and systems to go beyond the moon and sustain deep space exploration,” the statement said.
The as-yet-unnamed crew will ride a fully autonomous version of the company’s Dragon 2 spacecraft — apparently with no human pilot.
“There will be training for emergency procedures,” Musk said.
SpaceX plans to launch the mission in the fourth quarter of 2018 aboard the Falcon Heavy, a new “super heavy-lift” rocket system the company hopes to debut in a maiden flight sometime in 2017. It’s expected to cost about $90 million per launch.
The private moon mission would depart from Launchpad 39A at Cape Canaveral — the same pad Apollo astronauts launched from in the 1960s and 1970s.
From there, Musk said, they will “skim the surface of the moon” in a wide loop, go out past the moon, travel into deep space, and then return to Earth.
When asked by reporters about the risk of the mission, Musk said the two-person crew was “certainly not naive.”
“I think they’re going in with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to minimize that risk, but it’s not zero.”
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