SpaceX will fly two private citizens on a trip around the Moon in the second quarter of 2018 using the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the company announced.
The privately held company has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the Moon late next year and they have already paid a significant deposit.
"Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow," SpaceX said in a statement.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission.
In addition, this will make use of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which was developed with internal SpaceX funding. Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying.
Later this year, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, we will launch our Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station. This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board.
A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018. SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions.
Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the Moon and return to Earth. Lift-off will be from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral – the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions.
"Designed from the beginning to carry humans, the Dragon spacecraft already has a long flight heritage. These missions will build upon that heritage, extending it to deep space mission operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars," SpaceX said.
Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
Dragon is a free-flying spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to orbiting destinations. It made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments. It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth.
Currently, Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the beginning to carry humans. Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew. Dragon's first manned test flight is expected to take place as early as 2018.
Featured image credit: SpaceX