Crew Dragon cupola
An illustration of the Crew Dragon spacecraft outfitted with a cupola in place of the docking adapter used for space station missions. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — Space Adventures has dropped plans to fly space tourists on a high-altitude Crew Dragon flight but has not ruled out revisiting the mission concept in the future.

Space Adventures announced in February 2020 that it has signed a contract with SpaceX for a Crew Dragon mission that would not go to the International Space Station. Instead, the spacecraft, with four customers on board, would go to an orbit twice as high as the ISS, staying there for five days before returning.

At the time of the announcement, Space Adventures projected flying the mission between late 2021 and the middle of 2022. The company though, provided few updates about the status of that mission after the announcement, including who had signed up for the flight and when the mission would launch.

Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures, revealed to Agence France-Presse during a recent visit to Moscow that his company was no longer going ahead with the mission. “Ultimately our reservation with SpaceX expired and that’s not a mission that we are going to be executing in the immediate future,” he said.

Company spokesperson Stacey Tearne confirmed to SpaceNews that the company had dropped plans for the mission. “The mission was marketed to a large number of our prospective customers, but ultimately the mix of price, timing and experience wasn’t right at that particular time and our contract with SpaceX expired,” she said. “We hope to revisit the offering in the future.”

Space Adventures flew a series of private astronauts to the ISS starting in 2001, taking advantage of open seats that were available on Soyuz missions. Space Adventures last flew a customer there in 2009, though, because the Soyuz seats were being used exclusively for crew rotations.

The company announced in May, though, that it had acquired a dedicated Soyuz flight to the station. The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft will launch Dec. 8 carrying Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, along with professional astronaut Alexander Misurkin. The spacecraft will spend 12 days at the station before they return home in that spacecraft.

Maezawa and Hirano have been training in Russia for the flight, and both Roscosmos and Space Adventures have said the mission remains on schedule. Space Adventures is also planning a second mission to the ISS, which would include a spacewalk for one of the private astronauts. The company has not announced any customers for that mission, which is scheduled for no earlier than 2023.

As it turns out, many aspects of Space Adventures’ original Crew Dragon flight were carried out by the Inspiration4 mission in September. That mission did not go to the ISS but instead to a higher altitude, in its case about 585 kilometers. As with the Space Adventures’ proposal, the Inspiration4 mission featured four private astronauts without a professional astronaut on board.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...