Inspiration4: What is the private SpaceX trip to orbit?

Inspiration4 is the subject of new Netflix series Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 15 September 2021 10:41
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<p>Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Dr Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski in ‘Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space'</p>

Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Dr Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski in ‘Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space'

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The Inspiration4 is about to take a trip into space, setting new precedents as it goes.

In a year of major launches for private space tourism, SpaceX’s version in the form of Inspiration4 is arguably the most dramatic: it will an entirely private crew of tourists head out into orbital space for the first time ever.

As such, it will go much higher than Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson’s similar journeys in recent months – the latter of which, by some definitions, did not even reach space at all. It will also be much longer, with the crew spending three days in flight rather than the short jumps taken on board the Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights.

In all, the journey on 15 September will likely help establish SpaceX as the most accomplished of the world’s space tourism firms, as well as setting a number of firsts.

What form will the trip take?

The team will be blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre on 15 September, all being well. They will leave from the Launch Complex 39A, famous for its role in the work to get to the Moon in the Apollo mission as well as for launching Nasa’s Space Shuttles.

They will then spend three days in orbit, floating around Earth and looking both down at the planet and up into space. At their furthest from the planet, they will be some 600km from Earth.

After those three days are up, they will drop into the Atlantic Ocean and the mission will come to an end.

How will they get there?

Inside SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which will be mounted on top of one of its Falcon 9 rocket. Together, that equipment has conducted a number of missions successfully – including being the only private spacecraft to have taken humans to the International Space Station – and so this will not be among its most difficult missions.

It is Dragon that will be the team’s home for the journey. It can fit up to seven people in total, and is decked out with the seats and gear that ensures they can get to, around and back from space safely. Importantly, it can do that journey itself: Dragon is autonomous, which is why the civilian crew will be able to do the journey without needing to be able to fly the craft themselves.

The capsule is a little different for the Inspiration4 journey. Usually, it has a space at the top to dock with the International Space Station; that won’t be needed this time, so SpaceX have instead installed a large window called a “cupola” that will allow them to gaze out to space with a 360-degree view.

Falcon 9 will just help with the start part of the journey, pushing the capsule up into orbit and then detaching. Once it is detached, it will drop back down to Earth so that it can be re-used – the ability to recycle the rockets is a key part of SpaceX’s plans for space tourism, since it makes the journeys much cheaper.

Why is this happening?

As with the other trips undertaken by Mr Bezos and Mr Branson, the primary reason for the journey is as marketing for private space travel, but all three companies are keen to give the appearance that the journey is a trip for all of humanity, and about pushing the limits of space travel.

In the case of Inspiration4, that is a little more than just talk, since the trip will also look to raise awareness for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital – which provides free healthcare to children with cancer, as well as conducting research – as well as raising money for it.

One of the people on the trip will be Hayley Arceneaux, who was cared for by St Jude as a child and now works there. Another traveller, Christopher Sembroski, was given a spot on the flight by a friend who won a raffle, which looked to raise money for the hospital.

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