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SpaceX successfully launched a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four nonprofessional astronauts on its first private crewed mission named Inspiration4 on Sept. 15, a long-awaited milestone in the commercialization of spaceflight.
The Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:02 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. There were no issues reported during the countdown or liftoff, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience separating from the rocket’s upper stage 12 minutes after liftoff after reaching orbit.
The Crew Dragon is flying a private mission called Inspiration4. The four people on board, none of whom are astronauts employed by a government agency or company, will spend three days in space at an altitude of approximately 575 kilometers before splashing down off the Florida coast.
The mission is the fourth crewed flight by SpaceX, but the first that does not involve NASA. The Demo-2, Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions all featured astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency and Japanese space agency JAXA on missions to the International Space Station. Inspiration4 will not dock with the station.
Resilience, which first flew on the Crew-1 mission that returned to Earth from six months at the ISS May 1, is largely unmodified from others used for ISS missions, said Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX. The main difference is the addition of a large domed window, or cupola, in place of the docking adapter in the nose of the spacecraft.
“Since we’re not docking anywhere, it makes sense to have a cupola, and have the biggest continuous window that’s ever been put in space,” he said at a prelaunch briefing Sept. 14. “It’s otherwise the same, very safe Dragon that we’re flying right now for NASA.”
Inspiration4 is led by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire thanks to the online payments company, Shift4 Payments, that he founded. Isaacman and SpaceX announced Inspiration4 in February as a mission to raise at least $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The four people flying the mission fit into themes of leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity. Isaacman, the commander, represents leadership. The hope seat is filled by Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude who was treated for cancer there as a child. The 29-year-old is the youngest American to go into orbit and is the first with a prosthetic, a titanium implant in her leg from bone cancer treatment.
The other two people came from competitions Inspiration4 conducted in February. Chris Sembroski was the winner of a raffle contest for the “generosity” theme, where people purchased tickets to win a seat. The aerospace engineer entered the competition and was not selected, but got a seat when an unidentified friend who did win gave that seat to him.
The fourth seat went to Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and artist who set up an online shop through Shift4 and submitted a video describing her desire to fly in space for the “prosperity” seat. She participated in analog space expeditions on Earth and was a finalist for a NASA astronaut selection round in 2009.
Inspiration4 will also conduct a series of medical experiments arranged by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine. Those experiments range from biomedical monitoring of the crew to cognitive tests, comparing their health while flying at an altitude of 575 kilometers versus the lower altitude of the ISS.
Isaacman said he pushed for the higher altitude for this mission to help tackle some of the risk associated with human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit, such as radiation exposure, although it’s unclear how much data a three-day flight at that altitude will provide.
“It is a higher radiation profile than what would be observed at the space station,” he said. “The greater the understanding we can have on that, the better planning we can make for future long-duration missions, like going to Mars.”
The mission has more intangible goals as well. The mission is a demonstration of the feasibility of dedicated commercial human orbital spaceflight, a long-standing goal of both the space industry and NASA.
Firefly Aerospace launched its first Firefly rocket last Thursday. After two minutes and thirty seconds of flight, the launch was terminated due to an engine issue.
Why it’s important: Though Firefly did not reach orbit, this was a significant step forward for the company.
- Firefly was the first new space startup to livestream their first launch. This kind of transparency is impressive considering that launch companies don’t like airing “growing pains.” You can watch a replay of the Everyday Astronaut stream here.
- The Alpha launch vehicle (1,300 kg to low Earth orbit) flew for two minutes and thirty seconds…not bad for it’s first-time launch performance:
- SpaceX: Falcon 1 (670 kg) first launch lasted 33 seconds
- Astra: Rocket 1.0 (< 100kg) first launch lasted 27 seconds, Rocket 2.0 (< 100 kg) second launch lasted 30 seconds
- Virgin Orbit: LauncherOne (500 kg) first launch lasted a few seconds
The details: Firefly launched its maiden orbital attempt on Thursday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. About 15 seconds into the flight, engine 2 (there are four Reaver engines on the first stage) shut down. According to the company, the engine didn’t fail — the propellant main valves on the engine closed and thrust terminated. The remaining three engines were able to maintain control until the vehicle reached supersonic speeds after which it lost control. The range then detonated the flight termination system causing the rocket to explode.
Background: Founded in 2017, Firefly is a launch services provider based in the Austin area. Firefly’s “end-to-end” space transportation solution is unique in the industry, and consists of three major systems:
- Rockets to fly from earth to space (the Alpha launch vehicle)
- A space utility vehicle (think “space taxi”) to maneuver previously launched spacecraft to alternative orbits, and
- A lander to carry payloads down to planetary surfaces.
What’s next? Firefly intends to launch its second Alpha launch vehicle by the end of this year. But first, the company must complete an anomaly investigation to gain an understanding of why engine 2 shut down early, and uncover any other relevant unexpected events during flight.
As Aerospace Lectures organization, we believe that the addition of these launch companies will help make commercial spaceflight become more viable, transparent, and cost-efficient. This way space can be accessible for everyone. Thus, we commend Firefly on its maiden flight and we hope to see many successful space launches in the future.
Boeing is set to launch its Starliner spacecraft on a crucial uncrewed flight to the International Space Station next week. The liftoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled for 2:53 p.m. EDT (1853 GMT) next Friday (July 30) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. You’ll be able to watch the launch and mission activities on NASA TV.
If all goes to plan, Starliner will take about 31 minutes to reach its preliminary orbit and then will target a docking the next day with the International Space Station. Starliner tried this meetup once before, on the OFT-1 mission in December 2019, but suffered a series of technical issues that left the capsule stranded in the wrong orbit for a rendezvous.
The OFT-2 docking is scheduled for 3:06 p.m. EDT (1906 GMT) on Saturday (July 31) and will also livestream on NASA’s channels and the Space.com website. Starliner will bring 400 lbs. (181 kilogram) of NASA cargo and crew supplies to the orbiting complex and return to Earth with more than 550 lbs. (250 kg) of cargo, the agency said in a statement.
The date of Starliner’s departure from the space station has not yet been scheduled, but the OFT-2 mission is expected to last about a week. See below for a detailed timeline of media events in the leadup to the mission and its first few days.
“OFT-2 will demonstrate the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner spacecraft and Atlas V rocket from launch to docking to a return to Earth in the desert of the western United States,” NASA said in the same statement. “The uncrewed mission will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for regular flights with astronauts to and from the space station.”
Boeing is one of two commercial crew providers for the International Space Station, along with SpaceX, which has been using its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for operational activities since 2020. SpaceX and Boeing received NASA contracts in 2014 valued at a combined $6.8 billion to encourage the development of crewed spaceships meant to replace the space shuttle, which retired in 2011. Boeing is expected to start sending astronauts to space in 2022, provided all goes well with OFT-2.
With this new activity by Boeing, it seems that the commercial spaceflight sector is growing exponentially.
History was made for Space Tourism and Commercial Spaceflight with Richard Bronson and his Spaceship 2 Flight
Today history was made when Richard Bronson with his Spaceship Two Unity 22 spaceship launched from New Mexico spaceport. Richard Bronson, who is the owner of the famous commercial space tourism company Virgin Galactic, flew to the edge of space (before low earth orbit begins) with his company officials to demonstrate the space flight capability of Space Ship Two. Technically it wasn’t a full-fledged LEO spaceflight, it was a wonderful demonstration of the possibility of commercial spaceflight so it actually made history by opening the path to real Space Tourism. The aim is to be able to have regular space flights to Low Earth Orbit for the purpose of space tourism, so that going to space will become a regular occurrence for humans.
Similar to the boom of the aviation industry during the 1930s, while initial flights to Space Tourism may be expensive, they will get cheaper as more flights and more competition will be avaşlable for commercial spaceflight.
As Aerospacelectures.com we congratulate Sir Richard Bronson and the whole Virgin Galactic team for the first real space tourism commercial spaceflight demonstration.