Spaceflight has traditionally been a government-led activity — and it's never been cheap. But the stratospheric cost of putting people and payloads into space is finally starting to fall, thanks in part to the rise of SpaceX and other private spaceflight companies.
Since NASA mothballed its space shuttles in 2011, NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to the ISS. Russia has been steadily raising the price of Soyuz seats, reaching $82 million each in 2015. The agency last purchased Soyuz seats for $75 million apiece in 2017.
NASA hopes to end its reliance on Russia in 2019, when SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner capsules begin “taxi” flights to the ISS. Seats on those spacecraft are expected to cost about $58 million.
Depending on where you're going, a ticket could set you back anywhere from $250,000 to tens of millions of dollars.
If you're looking simply to cross the 62-mile-high Karman line that marks the boundary between the upper atmosphere and outer space, Virgin Galactic says it will take you there for $250,000. The company says about 650 people already have tickets for the suborbital flights, to be made aboard a winged vehicle called SpaceShipTwo. A date for customer flights has yet to be announced.
Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, plans something similar — sending space tourists on brief suborbital flights using its New Shepard rocket system. The company has yet to set ticket prices or say when paid flights might begin.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin passengers will join the fewer than a dozen private citizens who have funded their own trips into space. From 2001 to 2009, the Vienna, Virginia-based firm Space Adventures worked with Russia’s space agency to send eight people to the ISS on flights lasting 10 or more days.
The world's first private astronaut, a wealthy American engineer named Dennis Tito, reportedly paid $20 million to spend eight days in space in 2001. More recently, Guy Laliberté, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, shelled out $35 million for an ISS trip in 2009. Space Adventures still advertises Soyuz flights and plans to start booking trips to the ISS aboard Boeing’s Starliner.
In September 2018, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa would ride the company’s yet-to-be-built Big Falcon Rocket on a trip around the moon. Neither Musk nor Maezawa, who said he would take along seven artists, would discuss the mission’s cost.
Small satellites may qualify for a free ride to space through NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites program, which helps universities and research groups fly standardized satellites called CubeSats aboard rockets as secondary payloads.
NASA is developing its Space Launch System, which will carry astronauts to the moon and Mars. The rocket’s per-launch cost has not been disclosed, but the agency now spends at least $2 billion per year on the project. The maiden flight isn’t expected until 2020.