Dome casings

SpaceX prepares to launch four civilians and a glass dome into space • The Register

The first orbital space flight entirely manned by civilians, Inspiration4, is set to launch tonight from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9.

The mission has been purchased and will be commissioned by Shift4 Payments boss Jared Isaacman, with Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux, and Christopher Sembroski occupying the rest of the seats.

It’s intoxicating stuff. The majority of crewed missions launched into orbit since the ill-fated last flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia have been to the International Space Station (ISS). The Chinese missions in Shenzhou are a notable exception, and the Soyuz MS-10 unfortunately failed to get into orbit.

To be sure, most of the Kennedy Space Center’s crew launches (with the notable exception of the last Hubble maintenance mission) were intended for the outpost. The Inspiration4 mission, however, should last three days without disturbing the lab.

The presence of four civilians on board, all making their first flights, is also a first. Civilians have already flown into space and a Russian film crew is due to be launched to the ISS in about a month, but at least one professional cosmonaut or astronaut has always been present. This is not the case with Inspiration4 and its non-governmental mission.

The capsule itself, Crew Dragon Resilience, was used for the Crew-1 mission to the ISS, returning earlier this year. Her mission this time is a considerably simpler affair, with no need for mooring activities. Thus, the mooring mechanism has been removed from the capsule in favor of a dome-shaped dome to allow its occupants to enjoy an impressive view of the Earth.

The flight plan calls for the Dragon to reach an apogee of 575 km, higher than the Hubble Space Telescope and the ISS. SpaceX modestly said the mission will fly “further than any manned space flight from the Hubble missions,” which is true. The much older Apollo missions obviously went a little deeper into space, however.

As with the capsule, the booster the mission will launch on has already seen the action and SpaceX plans to perform its ever-impressive turn of landing the Falcon 9 stage on a drone-ship once again.

It’s a far cry from the sub-orbital lobes of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard, and should usher in a new era of orbital flight for the very wealthy. The bill for this flight is paid by Isaacman, who hopes to raise awareness and fundraise for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

If all goes well, SpaceX will launch more paying customers, including Axiom Space’s AX-1 mission, in January 2022.

The five-hour launch window for Inspiration4 currently opens at 12:02 AM UTC on September 16. The latest forecast [PDF] showed a 20 percent chance that weather conditions would damage the launch. ®

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