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SpaceX signs 'blockbuster deal' to send space tourists to the ISS

The agreement expands SpaceX's work with Axiom Space to include four private crew missions into orbit.

Axiom Space's four private crew missions will fly with SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

In 2019, NASA declared the International Space Station open to commercial business, and it's looking like that will mean a whole lot of space tourists will get to enjoy microgravity. On Wednesday, space tourism company Axiom Space announced a "blockbuster deal" with SpaceX that will send private crews to the ISS through 2023.

Axiom and SpaceX already had a deal in place for a Dragon spacecraft flight with three private citizens and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría in early 2022. The new agreement expands the scope to a total of four flights.

Axiom had been planning multiple private missions, but the announcement ties the two companies more tightly together as space tourism efforts ramp up. "A new era in human spaceflight is here," said SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in an Axiom statement.

SpaceX has proven the capabilities of its Crew Dragon capsule through NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The company has already launched three successful crewed missions with professional astronauts on board. 

The Axiom missions will involve private crews. The previously announced first mission -- which has NASA approval to launch no earlier than January 2022 -- comes with a reported $55 million price tag per seat. 

"All four crews will receive combined commercial astronaut training from NASA and SpaceX, with SpaceX providing training on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, emergency preparedness training, spacesuit and spacecraft ingress and egress exercises, as well as partial and full simulations," said SpaceX in a statement on Wednesday.

SpaceX's space tourism plans were already ambitious. It's working toward sending a group of artists around the moon using the next-gen Starship spacecraft, and it signed on for the Inspiration4 mission, which aims to put "everyday people" into orbit on Dragon later this year, though it won't dock with the ISS.

Axiom has bigger ideas than just visiting the ISS. The Axiom Station is a planned privately owned space station that would start life as an attachment to the ISS in 2024 and then detach and operate on its own by 2028. It could become the ultimate space vacation destination. 

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