NASA has announced that it will open the doors of the International Space Station (ISS) to individuals and companies from 2020. The long-term aim is for the private sector to take over the ISS at some point, with the USA set to stop financing it by the end of the 2020s.
20 years after a similar move by Russia, NASA is looking to make money from 2020 onwards by allowing space tourists into the International Space Station (ISS), with the ultimate aim being to free itself from its financial commitment. "NASA is opening the International Space Station up to commercial opportunities," said Jeff DeWit, CFO of the US space agency. "NASA will authorise up to two short missions for private astronauts per year," added Robyn Gatens, who heads up the ISS for the agency. Journeys would be up to 30 days, and potentially around a dozen people could stay on board the ISS every year, without being able to go out of the station and into space, however.
58 million dollars for a return trip
These "private astronauts" will be transported there exclusively by the US companies which are currently developing vehicles for NASA, namely SpaceX with its Crew Dragon capsule, and Boeing which is building the Starliner capsule.
The two companies will choose their clients and charge them for the trip, which will be the most expensive element of the whole adventure, coming in at around 58 US million dollars per return journey, which is the average price invoiced to NASA by the two companies to transport the agency’s own astronauts. Neither the Dragon nor the Starliner is ready yet, and in theory they should be operational by the end of 2019, but the timetable depends on a number of tests being carried out successfully. The private missions will therefore not begin before 2020.
Dennis Tito – first tourist in space back in 2001
The tourists will pay NASA for the time spent in orbit including food, water, toilets and the entire life support system on board which was developed decades ago and funded by the US tax-payer. The cost will be around 35,000 US dollars per night per astronaut according to DeWit. Wi-Fi will not be included in the price and will cost 50 US dollars per gigabyte.
These will not be the first space tourists, however. US businessman Dennis Tito made that particular maiden voyage back in 2001, paying Russia some 20 million US dollars for the privilege. Others have followed in his weightless footsteps, including Canadian Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, in 2009. Russia is set to get tourist flights back up and running by the end of 2021.
Companies also welcome
The change in policy announced last Friday also includes the opening of the US parts of the station to private companies for "commercial and marketing activities". This will feature start-ups developing the production of weightless materials, with fibre optics for example being of peerless quality when manufactured in a weightless environment.
NASA published an initial price list on Friday based on rates per kilogramme of freight. The aim is to develop the space economy in the hope that at some point, the private sector will take over the ISS, which the USA will cease to finance by the end of the 2020s. "We want to stop being the landlord and start being a tenant," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said to journalists back in April. The space agency is also looking to raise finances for the Artemis mission to return to the Moon in 2024, and also to send the first humans to Mars, potentially in the next decade.
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