SpaceX is known for making big promises, most of which it has to walk back in the face of logistical challenges. However, it comes through often enough and in sufficiently spectacular fashion to keep the naysayers at bay. The most recent SpaceX setback is a bummer for anyone with aspirations to go boldly where no man has gone before. The company won’t be sending space tourists to orbit the moon this year as previously announced. Instead, it’ll be the middle of 2019 at the earliest.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the ambitious space tourism plan last year, saying the unidentified passengers had paid handsomely to be the first aboard its crewed Dragon capsule. This spacecraft was developed for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, but a series of setbacks have delayed a manned flight for both SpaceX and Boeing. Now, a best-case scenario for the Commercial Crew Program is that a manned NASA test could take place at the end of 2018. If that goes as planned, SpaceX could begin ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station next year.
Although, nothing is stopping SpaceX from selling seats on it to wealthy space enthusiasts. Because of the orbital trajectory around the moon, these individuals could set a record for the greatest distance from Earth. This was all explained more than a year ago when the Falcon Heavy was still in the testing phase. Now, that rocket has flown, but SpaceX is facing uncertain demand for its beefier rocket. Most satellite launches can make do with the smaller, cheaper Falcon 9. SpaceX currently predicts a substantial drop in the overall number of launches in 2019.
After the initial announcement, Musk said the space tourism flight might change to using the company’s BFR spacecraft instead. SpaceX plans to use the BFR as the basis for all its future launch operations, but it’s still on the drawing board. That could have something to do with the launch delay. SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson is adamant the launch is still happening, and the company is still fielding requests from other potential space tourists.
The BFR won’t use any Falcon 9 hardware like the Falcon Heavy. It’s an entirely new design capable of reusable flights to low-Earth orbit, the moon, and even Mars. We don’t know when the BFR will be ready, but Musk has hinted at March 2019. That could still leave time for a manned launch to the moon in 2019, but more delays are possible.
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