SpaceX and Inspiration4 are on track for a launch of the groundbreaking first all-civilian crew into space, with blast-off currently scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, September 15 in the US. If all goes to plan, the four-strong crew will ride a SpaceX Crew Dragon into orbit around Earth, for the start of a three day mission.
The launch window begins at 8:02pm EDT today, SpaceX has previously confirmed. That’s not to say the Falcon 9 will actually lift off at that exact moment: it’s a five-hour-long window.
The livestream of the whole event will begin ahead of that window opening, with SpaceX broadcasting it. Aboard will be four civilian crew, with Jared Isaacman acting as Commander. He’ll be joined by Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, and Hayley Arceneaux. However, while the fact that none of the four are professional astronauts is what helps make today’s launch such a big deal, it’s not the only notable element to the mission.
Expected to last for three days, it’ll see the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft fly 360 miles above the Earth. That’s actually the highest that a crewed mission has gone into space since 2009, when astronauts visited the Hubble Space Telescope for the final time.
Back then, NASA’s Space Shuttle was required for that mission. Fast forward to today, and it’s an example of the strength of the US space agency’s Commercial Crew program. Structured to replace the retired Space Shuttle program, it saw NASA collaborate with private rocket and spacecraft companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and others to make missions more affordable.
Inspiration4, however, underscores another potential use of that technology, and private spaceflight. While it will launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it’ll be a demonstration of how private missions can be used for both space tourism and research.
While the Dragon capsule that will take the Inspiration4 crew into orbit has been used before, it’s been customized for today’s mission. Gone is the usual docking ring on the nose, which would be required to connect with the International Space Station. In its place is a new cupola window dome – protected during launch with a hinged lid – that SpaceX says is the largest contiguous space window ever flown.
It’ll give the crew an unprecedented view of Earth and space during their mission. The cover will be restored when it’s time for the spacecraft to return to Earth in approximately three days time, with SpaceX earmarking several different splashdown sites off the coast of Florida.