rocket taking off

Space Tourism: How Much Does it Cost & Who's Offering It?

Last Updated: December 17, 2022

Many of us dream of going to space and over 600 people have traveled to space as astronauts in government-funded agencies such as NASA, the European Space Agency, and Roscosmos. But how much does spaceflight cost in today and how is that expected to change in the coming years? 

With new advancements in spaceflight technology, the costs of space travel are decreasing, making the dream of spaceflight a little closer for us all.

Evolution of Spaceflight Costs and Technologies

During the space race, the cost of sending something into space averaged between $6,000 to over $25,000 per kg of weight not adjusted for inflation and NASA spent $28 billion to land astronauts on the moon, about $288 billion in today’s dollars.

In recent decades, it has averaged around $10,000 per kg though certain missions have been higher due to other factors including the destination, the size of the rocket, the amount of fuel needed, and the cost of fuel. 

After the retirement of the space shuttle program, NASA paid Russia to transport astronauts to the ISS at about $80 million per seat on the Soyuz rocket. NASA’s biggest and newest rocket, the SLS (Space Launch System) which is currently being utilized for the new moon missions including Artemis and Orion, currently costs about $2-4 billion per launch.

But recent years and the addition of private space companies have drastically changed the game. NASA allowed private space companies to develop equipment for missions, including a 2006 partnership with SpaceX under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to provide resupply for crew and cargo demonstration contracts to the International Space Station (ISS). 

This partnership has continued to flourish over the years with SpaceX successfully launching two NASA astronauts in May 2020 on a Crew Dragon Spacecraft, making SpaceX the first private company to send astronauts to the ISS and the first crewed orbital launch from American soil in 9 years.

With the revolutionary technology of reusable boosters from SpaceX, the cost has plummeted, achieving less than $1,600 per kg with the Falcon Heavy (still totaling more than $100 million per launch) and even a projected cost of under a thousand for their next generation model Star Ship.

 These recent innovations are even making SLS the more expensive, less efficient option if SpaceX’s projections continue to progress as expected within margins of error. We shall see how NASA plans to adapt goals in light of this.

falcon heavy taking off

The Falcon Heavy is a cost-effective option for launching payloads into space.

The rise of private space companies

With private space companies, the opportunity for civilians to book a trip to space similar to booking a flight came closer to reality. Dennis Tito was the first private citizen to pay for a trip to space with a trip to the ISS from April 28th to May 6th, 2001 for $20 million dollars. Tito purchased his experience through Space Adventures Inc. which was founded in 1998 and offers a variety of different space experiences. They even acquired Zero Gravity Corporation, NASA’s provider of Reduced Gravity Training (not in space) for its astronauts, in 2008. They offer similar experiences for private individuals starting at about $8,200 as of this publishing (December 2022).

Space Adventures sent seven other space tourists to the ISS through 2009, but due to a number of factors, Space Adventures had to put their ISS offerings on hold until 2021 when they were able to purchase two Soyuz seats due to NASA moving their contract to SpaceX. Space Adventures sent two people to the ISS via the Roscosmos Soyuz rocket in December 2021 and is working on expanding its offerings.

In addition to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, there are a number of other private space companies getting into the commercial spaceflight/ space tourism market, most notably Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origins.

Flight Providers & Rates

What are the current rates for commercial spaceflight tickets? What commercial spaceflight trips have already happened? All prices are per person/ per seat.

1. SpaceX

SpaceX has had the most experience in sending humans to space thanks to its partnership with NASA and Musk has made it clear that he wants to make space travel an option for the public. To date, SpaceX has offered two commercial spaceflight options and has one big one planned for the future:

  • September 2021 Inspiration4 mission: 
    • SpaceX completed a Multi-Day Orbital Voyage, the first of their new plan to offer private astronaut experiences through their NASA partnership.  
    • Estimated $55 million for a 3-day stay inside a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule orbiting the Earth at 357 miles (574 km) with three crewmates, sponsored by billionaire Jared Isaacman to raise money for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital
  • April 8, 2022 Axiom Space/ SpaceX Vacation on ISS: 
    • Partnership between SpaceX and Houston-based Axiom Space Inc.
    • $55 million for a 10-day trip to ISS at 408 km with a weeklong (8-day) stay in the orbital lab. 
    • Expected to continue in 2023
    • Axiom plans to build a stand-alone space station to replace the ISS with the first module expected to launch in 2024.
  • Projected 2023 Lunar Tourism Trip: 
    • Although originally anonymous, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has contracted SpaceX to send himself and eight other civilians, piloted by one or two crew members on a SpaceX Starship spacecraft for a trip around the moon. On December 8th, 2022, the official crew of the dearMoon project (in addition to Maezawa) was announced: 
      • Steve Aoki: American DJ and record producer
      • Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd: American science communicator, content creator, photographer, and musician
      • Yemi A.D.: Czech choreographer, art director and performer
      • Rhiannon Adam: Irish photographer
      • Karim Iliya: British photographer and filmmaker
      • Brendan Hall: American filmmaker and photographer
      • Dev Joshi: Indian television actor
      • Choi Seung-hyun (stage name: T.O.P.): South Korean rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and actor
    • Cost is unknown, likely a minimum of $500 million

2. Blue Origin

Blue Origin: currently offers a 100km 12-minute ride to the Karman Line, the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space; pricing is still unclear and dependent on a variety of factors 

  • On July 2021, Jeff and Mark Bezos went into space on the New Shepard rocket with Oliver Daemen (who won the trip through an auction bid of around 28 million) and honored guest Wally Funk (a member of Mercury 13, the private program in which women trained to be astronauts but ultimately never went to space)
  • Blue Origin has completed 6 commercial space flights as of this publishing. Some “honorable guests” have been invited free of charge, such as Funk and actor William Shatner (Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek). Some have been sponsored or have received special deals due to their nonprofit status.
  • Although Bezos said that Blue Origin offerings would be priced similarly to competitors, and company insiders leaked that commercial flights would be priced between $200,000 and $300,000, the actual ticket price seems to be dependent on who you are, on how well you fit into Blue Origin’s marketing strategy, or your general potential to spread their message, provide good PR, etc. 
    • $28 million winning auction bid for the first flight ( $19 million was donated)
    • $1 million for a board member of a nonprofit
    • About $1.25 for a Dude Perfect comedy group crew member, hosted by MoonDAO in August 2022

3. Virgin Galactic Subortbital Joy Ride

Virgin Galactic Subortbital Joy Ride: $450,000 for a 90-minute ride to suborbital space 50km above sea level 

  • In July 2021, founder Richard Branson flew to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere with two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic employees as the first test of commercial spaceflight for the company
  • Each VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo carries up to four passengers
  • Expected flights are currently anticipated to begin in 2023 
  • Includes training accommodations and amenities; launches from New Mexico

4. Roscosmos/ Space Adventures Customized ISS Trip

Roscosmos/ Space Adventures Customized ISS Trip: $50-60million for a 12-day trip to the ISS at 408 km

  • In October 2021 an actress and director shot scenes for the first movie filmed in space
  • December 2021 Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano for two days (same billionaire planning to go to the moon with SpaceX)
  • With the current situation between Russia and Ukraine, this option is effectively nonexistent currently

5. Space Perspective

Space Perspective: a six-hour balloon ride to space/ the stratosphere on their “Spaceship Neptune” at $125,000

  • Rides are currently scheduled to begin by the end of 2024. 
  • A pressurized capsule will be slowly lifted by a football-field-sized hydrogen-filled balloon 19 miles (30 km) into the stratosphere, about 3 times the altitude of commercial planes. 
  • The passenger cabin features a bar, bathroom, and windows for sightseeing and is expected to carry 8 passengers and 1 pilot per trip.

6. Aurora Space Station (no longer in development)

Aurora Space Station was supposed to be the world’s first luxury space hotel, offering a 12-day stay for $9.5 million allowing them to free float, observe space and earth, practice hydroponics and play in a hologram deck, but they shut down operations and refunded all deposits in March 2021. They received a lot of media attention and therefore are noted here due to that notoriety.

Conclusion: the current cost of flying to space

Currently, it is only available to those who can spend an average of $250,000 to $500,000 for suborbital trips (about a fifteen-minute ride to the edge of space and back) or flights to actual orbit at more than $50 million per seat (though typically a longer trip than 15 minutes).

It could be free/ discounted if you can find a sponsor, often for nonprofit/ charity purposes, or if you are someone of notoriety that can help spread the company’s mission. 

Waitlists are available for most offerings, with a deposit, with many stretching years into the future, which might end up helping you have a spot at a more reasonable price in the future if you can save up.

Many companies are looking to provide extended stay options on private space stations in the future, similar to how you might book a flight somewhere and stay in a hotel for a few days. Again, for the immediate future, this is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars. The biggest portion of the cost would be launching them, though it is still estimated that a couple million dollars will be needed to cover the expenses of your stay while you are on the space station, whether that is included in the ticket price or added on top of that.

Many companies are hopeful they can eventually price a trip to space down to $100,000 but that will likely take some time, even with the cost-saving measures of reusable boosters. Many forms of recent technology have evolved exponentially in recent years and with dropping price rates as well. Just as plane travel was originally prohibitively expensive, but has now become fairly reasonable for the average consumer, the hope is that the same will eventually happen with space tourism, but we will have to see how long that takes. 

While the possibility of going to space is still out of reach for many of us, hopefully, the advancements in recent years and those yet to come will help to continually lower the costs of going to space, just as has occurred in many other fields. This author, for one, truly hopes that the interest of the elite who are currently able to participate in these offerings will spur research and development, not just of space tourism but space exploration in general, to help fuel a quicker journey to space access for all

Sarah H.

Written by Sarah Hoffschwelle

Sarah Hoffschwelle is a freelance writer who covers a combination of topics including astronomy, general science and STEM, self-development, art, and societal commentary. In the past, Sarah worked in educational nonprofits providing free-choice learning experiences for audiences ages 2-99. As a lifelong space nerd, she loves sharing the universe with others through her words. She currently writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@sarah-marie and authors self-help and children’s books.

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