The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said on Friday that it would open the International Space Station to conduct business investments, including space tourism, as it seeks to be economically off-track research laboratories.
Price tag? Round-trip tickets cost millions of dollars and cost $35,000 per night.
NASA Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWit said in a statement issued on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York, “NASA is opening up the International Space Station to find business opportunities and market these opportunities,” This is something we have never done before.”
Robin Gates, deputy director of the International Space Station, said there will be up to two short-term private astronaut missions each year.
The mission will be for a maximum of 30 days of stay. NASA says more than a dozen private astronauts can visit the International Space Station every year.
These travellers will be transported to orbiters by two US companies currently developing transportation for NASA: SpaceX, its Crew Dragon cabin and Boeing, are building a bus called Starliner.
These companies will choose customers – they are not necessarily US citizens – and charge for the International Space Station, which will be the most expensive part of the adventure: round-trip airfare of about $58 million.
This is the average rate that the company charges NASA from space explorers to the International Space Station.
Dragon and Starliner are not ready. Their shipping capsules should be ready by the end of 2019, but the schedule depends on the results of a series of tests. So private tasks will wait until 2020 at the earliest.
Visitors will pay NASA the cost of using the station, food, water and life support systems.
DeWit said that each astronaut costs about $35,000 a night.
This does not include the Internet and will cost $50 per GB.
Tenant, not landlord’
The space station does not belong to NASA. It began in 1998 with Russia, and other countries participated in the mission and dispatched astronauts.
But the United States has paid for and controlled most of the components.
New space visitors to the International Space Station will not be the first: in 2001, American businessman Dennis Tito won this honour. He paid Russia about $20 million for the trip.
Others followed his footsteps, the last one being Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.
Since 2011, the Russian Union Rockets have been the only way to reach the space station. In addition to Russian astronauts, they only transported space astronaut astronauts.
At any time, there are usually three to six crew members on the International Space Station. It is now home to three Americans, two Russians and one Canadian.
Russia plans to resume tourist flights at the end of 2021.
Policy changes announced on Friday include opening up some of the commercial and marketing activities of the International Space Station to private sector companies.
This will include startups developing building materials technology under weightless conditions.
For example, fibre optic cables are of exceptional quality when manufactured under microgravity.
Our idea is to develop the space economy and hopes to see the private sector take over the International Space Station. The United States hopes to stop financing in the late 1920s.
NASA Director Jim Bridenstine said in April: “We want to be a tenant rather than a landlord.”
The agency hopes to free up funds to return to the moon mission in 2024, called Artemis, and send the first humans to Mars, perhaps in the 2030s.
However, it is unclear whether commercial activities in Earth’s orbit are profitable, as it is still so expensive to get there first.
In the end, NASA seems to have changed its position to meet its huge budget needs.
When Russia announced the introduction of Tito to the space station, NASA first opposed such a task. It eventually sent a Russian bill to the Russians about his stay on the International Space Station.