NASA astronaut Suni Williams inside a mockup of a Crew Dragon capsule. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX has penned a deal with the space tourism outfit Space Adventures to launch private citizens to orbit aboard the company's Crew Dragon capsule.

Why it matters: SpaceX is building and testing the Crew Dragon to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, but this announcement shows they're thinking about orbital space tourism as a possible driver of revenue for them in the future.

Details: The mission is being billed as a "free-flyer" Crew Dragon mission that will allow as many as four people to take a trip to orbit, possibly breaking the altitude record for private individuals in the process, according to Space Adventures.

  • It's not yet clear how much the flight will cost.
  • Space Adventures is a known quantity in space tourism. The company arranged eight missions to the International Space Station for paying customers.

The big picture: A number of companies are looking to capitalize on the idea that paying customers will want to fly to space.

  • Virgin Galactic became the first human spaceflight-focused company to go public, and say they'll fly the company's founder Richard Branson to suborbital space sometime this year.
  • Axiom — a company hoping to build a commercial space station in orbit — expects to host private tourists on their station and plans to make use of both SpaceX and Boeing's systems to fly people there.
  • Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is planning to launch suborbital flights for paying customers, with their first expected later this year.

Yes, but: SpaceX hasn't flown any people to orbit, so the true test of consumer trust will happen when the company launches its first astronauts in the coming months.

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