|Launch date||15 September 2021|
|End of life date||18 September 2021|
Inspiration4 was a spaceflight planned for four people aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience, launched on 15 September 2021. The three-day flight was the first human spaceflight to orbit Earth with exclusively private citizens on board. The flight was privately operated by SpaceX using a previously-flown Crew Dragon capsule launched to low Earth orbit. The flight was paid for by Jared Isaacman, who was on the flight along with Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski, and Sian Proctor. 1)
Inspiration4 was the first crewed orbital spaceflight whose primary objective was not to visit a space station since STS-125 in 2009.
Inspiration4 is the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit. The mission was commanded by Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer. Named in recognition of the four-person crew that raised awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, this milestone represents a new era for human spaceflight and exploration. 2)
Towards The Civilian Commercial Flight
• March 30, 2021: The private venture that purchased a SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to low Earth orbit has finalized the crew for that mission, scheduled to launch as soon as September. 3)
- The Inspiration4 mission, which describes itself as the “world’s first all-civilian mission to space,” revealed the crew that will accompany its sponsor, entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, during a March 30 event at the Kennedy Space Center. Isaacman announced the mission Feb. 1, starting a pair of contests to select two people who would fly with him.
- One of those people is Sian Proctor, a scientist and educator who has participated in a number of terrestrial “analog astronaut” missions. She won the seat called “Prosperity” by establishing an online store through Isaacman’s company, Shift4 Payments, and submitting a video judged by an independent panel.
- The second is Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin employee in the Seattle area. He won the “Generosity” seat by participating in a sweepstakes that raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
- The fourth member of the crew, previously announced, is Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude who, as a child, was treated for bone cancer there. At 29, Arceneaux would be the youngest American in space.
- “We promised a crew representing some of the best of humanitarian qualities, exemplifying our mission ideals of leadership, hope, prosperity and generosity,” Isaacman said. “I’m pleased to report that we’ve accomplished that goal.”
- The four will start training as a group immediately, he said. That training includes time in Crew Dragon simulators, going through all aspects of the mission, as well as centrifuges to simulate the accelerations of launch and reentry and “other forms of stress testing.”
- In addition to announcing the crew, Isaacman and SpaceX outlined the details of the mission itself. Launch is scheduled for no earlier than Sept. 15, slightly earlier than the original announcement of the fourth quarter of this year. The spacecraft will remain in orbit for three days, flying in an orbit at the same inclination as the International Space Station — 51.6 degrees — but in an orbit as high as 540 km, more than 100 km above the station.
- That particular orbit, Isaacman said, will be the highest people have been above the Earth’s surface since the final shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. “It should send a message,” he said, one of going beyond the ISS. “We’re ready to go back to the moon, and we’re ready to go beyond the moon to Mars. Extending out a little bit farther than where we’ve been for some time right now is a good step in the right direction.”
- The three-day mission duration, he added, “is a good balance between the capabilities of the Dragon spacecraft and how much time you want to spend in a relatively small space for a couple days together.”
- Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said the company moved up the mission slightly to September to accommodate the Crew-3 launch for NASA later in the fall. “This crew, with training, we believe will be ready by September, as well as the Dragon,” he said. “It works out very well with our manifest.”
- The Inspiration4 mission will use the same Dragon spacecraft, called Resilience, currently docked at the ISS for the Crew-1 mission. That spacecraft is currently scheduled to return to Earth April 28, assuming the Crew-2 mission launches to the station on schedule April 22. “We feel very good about the timeframe we’re working in” to refurbish the spacecraft for Inspiration4.
- Besides refurbishing the spacecraft, SpaceX will install an additional window on the spacecraft, a viewing port modeled on the space station’s cupola that will replace the docking adapter under the spacecraft’s nose cone. Since the Inspiration4 mission will not dock with the station, that adapter is not needed.
- “It’s awesome,” Reed said of the cupola. Qualification and testing of the cupola is in progress, and Reed said SpaceX will ensure that its installation doesn’t preclude using the spacecraft for later missions, such as those to the station that will require the reinstallation of the docking adapter.
- Inspiration4 will be the first Crew Dragon mission for a customer other than NASA, but it is not the only one on its manifest. Axiom Space will fly four people to the ISS on its Ax-1 mission in early 2022. Space Adventures previously announced a Crew Dragon mission that would fly well above the station, but that space tourism company has not provided any updates on its schedule for that mission.
- “We’re trying to deliver an awful lot of messages with this mission,” Isaacman said. “When this mission is complete, people are going to look at it and say this was the first time that everyday people could go to space.”
- However, Inspiration4 may have overestimated the interest in the mission. Proctor was one of only about 200 people who participated in the Prosperity competition, which required no expense beyond the time setting up an online store and producing a video. Sembroski was selected from nearly 72,000 entries, which could be purchased at the rate of 10 entries per dollar, up to 10,000 entries per person.
- That limited interest has hurt Inspiration4’s efforts to raise money for St. Jude. The mission has raised a little less than $13 million for the hospital as of March 30, most of which was raised when the sweepstakes was open in February. That’s well short of the goal of $100 million set when Inspiration4 was announced Feb. 1.
- “We’ve helped drive a significant amount of donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Isaacman said. “This fundraising effort is really far from over. We’ll be continuing throughout the year.” He didn’t elaborate on those future fundraising plans.
• September 10, 2021: SpaceX is gearing up for its first purely commercial human spaceflight, but many details about the mission remain unclear. 4)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch a Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Inspiration4 mission next week. Four people will fly on the mission, announced in February, spending three days in orbit but not docking to the International Space Station.
Billionaire Jared Isaacman, who is funding the mission, will fly as mission commander. The other three people — Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski — joined the mission either through competitions associated with the project or by being selected by Isaacman and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, for which the mission is intended to be a fundraiser.
The project announced Sept. 3 that SpaceX completed a flight readiness review for the mission. The launch was scheduled for a 24-hour window that opens at 8 p.m. Eastern Sept. 14 from the Kennedy Space Center, with the following 24 hours serving as a backup. With no docking to the ISS, the mission is not constrained to a short or instantaneous launch window. The project announced Sept. 10 that it had rescheduled the launch to no earlier than 8 p.m. Eastern Sept. 15, again at the start of a 24-hour window.
Inspiration4 has not announced a more specific launch window, stating in the Sept. 3 announcement that it will narrow that window down to five hours about three days before launch based on weather forecasts for both launch and landing as well as for abort locations.
However, a Sept. 9 media advisory by Space Center Houston invited reporters to the center between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Sept. 15 “to watch the SpaceX Inspiration4 launch and learn about the science aboard the mission.” The center is hosting several scientists who are flying life sciences experiments on the mission.
The mission is SpaceX’s fourth mission to carry people, after the Demo-1, Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions, but the first outside the auspices of NASA’s commercial crew program. Inspiration4 calls the flight the first “all-civilian orbital mission,” although the first orbital mission without any professional astronauts or cosmonauts on board is more accurate. Spaceflight analyst Jonathan McDowell noted Sept. 9 there have been 15 previous “all-civilian” orbital missions using the customary definition of civilian to include civil government employees as well as private individuals.
The private nature of this mission has resulted in a different flow of details about the mission than even NASA commercial crew missions. Inspiration4 has a partnership with Time magazine which led to a cover story in August. Time Studios has developed a documentary series about preparations for the mission, with the first installments appearing on the streaming service Netflix Sept. 6.
However, Inspiration4 has not done a briefing for other media since March. Brian Bianco, a spokesperson for the mission, said Sept. 7 that a final “prelaunch event” is planned one or two days before the launch, but didn’t have additional details about it.
When announced in February, Inspiration4 was billed as a fundraiser for St. Jude’s. The mission has the goal of raising $100 million, plus an additional $100 million donated by Isaacman. Raffle ticket sales were expected to contribute a major share of that $100 million, but fell short of initial expectations.
The Inspiration4 website states that it has raised $29.2 million toward that $100 million goal as of early Sept. 10. The mission announced Sept. 9 that it will carry a diverse payload of items, ranging from memorabilia to non-fungible tokens, a type of digital collectible, it will later auction to raise additional funds.
“The impact of the Inspiration4 mission has been immeasurable, serving as an incredible platform to educate and engage millions in the movement to find cures and deliver care for childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases through accelerated research and treatment,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and chief executive of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the fundraising organization that supports St. Jude’s, in the Sept. 9 announcement of the auction. “The auction is a critical component of the overall campaign as it enables us to reach new audiences and supporters as we work to fulfill our mission.”
• September 15, 2021: SpaceX’s first fully commercial Crew Dragon mission is being closely watched by both NASA and other companies in the commercial human spaceflight sector, who see it as a pathfinder for future missions but not necessity a model for them. 5)
- SpaceX is scheduled to launch the Inspiration4 mission on a Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Center during a five-hour window that opens at 8:02 p.m. EDT Sept. 15. The rocket will place a Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit with four people on board for a three-day mission.
- During a Sept. 14 briefing, Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said preparations for the mission were going well and launch weather was favorable. He added, though, that SpaceX will also have to take into account recovery weather three to four days later before making a decision to proceed with the launch.
- Inspiration4 will be the fourth time that SpaceX has launched humans, but the first that is not part of NASA’s commercial crew program. Billionaire Jared Isaacman is funding the mission, which he says is intended to be a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children's Research Hospital. He has not disclosed how much he is paying for the mission, although independent estimates suggest it may be as much as $200 million.
- While NASA is not involved in the mission, agency leadership sees it as a vindication of its overall approach to commercialize low Earth orbit. “It’s another opening up of space,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said when asked about Inspiration4 during an appearance at the Humans to Mars Summit by Explore Mars Sept. 14.
- “NASA is not involved in it because this is a totally commercial operation,” he said. (NASA is providing a small amount of resources, such as satellite communications, for the mission, for which SpaceX is reimbursing NASA an estimated $1 million.) “It’s another example of where we’d like to go in Earth orbit eventually.”
- NASA’s long-term goal for the commercial crew program is to be one of several customers for transporting people to and from low Earth orbit, reducing the agency’s cost. SpaceX has announced contracts with Axiom Space for a series of missions to and from the International Space Station as well as with Space Adventures for a Crew Dragon mission that, like Inspiration4, goes into orbit but does not dock with the ISS.
- “We have a growing backlog of commercial astronaut missions that we’re looking forward to performing,” Reed said at the Inspiration4 briefing. He did not discuss details about that backlog beyond the first Axiom Space mission, Ax-1, scheduled for early 2022.
- “We’re gearing up to fly three, four, five, six times a year, at least,” he said later of the potential Crew Dragon flight rate. “There’s nothing that really limits our capability to launch. It’s about having rockets and Dragons ready to go.”
- Companies that are planning to fly future commercial Crew Dragon missions say they’re watching the upcoming Inspiration4 flight with interest, even if the one-off mission is different from what they’re planning. “We are all following the Inspiration4 mission as closely as any fan of the growth of human space exploration,” Axiom Space spokesperson Beau Holder told SpaceNews Sept. 14. “It brings new awareness and interest to commercial spaceflight and that is a positive thing for not only our own missions, but the efforts of everyone across the industry.”
- However, he suggested the preparations for that mission may not help much with Ax-1, training for which by its four-person crew is already underway. “As Axiom’s private missions are planned to visit ISS and with profiles more closely approximating previous government ones, a closer analogue for lessons learned would be the NASA crew missions.”
- “We are excited for the upcoming Inspiration4 launch and wish Jared and his crew the best,” Space Adventures spokesperson Stacey Tearne said Sept. 14. “With each flight, more people become aware that opportunities exist for non-professionals to launch to space, no matter the profile.”
- Space Adventures, best known for sending space tourists to the ISS using spare seats on Soyuz missions in the early 2000s, is preparing for its first dedicated mission on a Soyuz in December. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant, Yozo Hirano, will go to the station on the Soyuz MS-20 mission in December, commanded by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin. They will spend 12 days at the station before returning to Earth.
- The company hasn’t provided an update on its plans for a Crew Dragon mission it announced in February 2020. That mission would spend several days in space at an orbital altitude about twice as high as the ISS. That would be higher than even Inspiration4, which will fly at about 575 kilometers, the highest crewed mission since the final shuttle servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.
- Reed said SpaceX is using Inspiration4 and other missions to adjust its overall training process and look for ways to shorten it. The long-term goal, he said, in an “airline-like” model with very little training, which he said is necessary to achieve SpaceX’s ultimate goals of sending millions of people into space.
- “As we look for ways to evolve toward that airline-like model, we’ll look for how we can cut back on the amount of training that is necessary to ensure safety,” he said.
SpaceX successfully launched a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four nonprofessional astronauts on its first private crewed mission on 15 September 2021 at 8:02 p.m. EDT (on 16 September 2021 at 00:02 UTC) a long-awaited milestone in the commercialization of spaceflight. 6)
The Falcon 9 lifted off 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.
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~ 575 km, inclination = 51.6º, period of~96 minutes.
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.”
While the mission has the goal of raising $200 million, of which $100 mission is donated by Isaacman, it has raised only about $31 million of the remaining $100 million through ticket sales and other activities. The spacecraft carries a payload of memorabilia and other items, including digital collectibles known as non-fungible tokens (NFT), that it will auction off to continue raising money.
That includes what Inspiration4 calls the first-ever minted NFT song to be played in orbit, by the rock band Kings of Leon. “We’re going to jam to it on orbit and later auction that for St. Jude,” said Arceneaux at the prelaunch briefing.
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. That’s included work from mission design to training, although some lessons learned may not be applicable to companies planning other missions, like trips to the ISS.
Some on the crew see their presence as a symbol. Proctor noted at the prelaunch briefing that she will be just the fourth Black woman in space and will be the first to serve as a pilot, supporting Isaacman in operations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. “I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color, and really get them to think about reaching for the stars.”
For some, the flight is the culmination of visions dating back decades. Alan Ladwig has been involved in efforts to promote human spaceflight by nonprofessional astronauts since his time at NASA in the 1980s when he managed its Space Flight Participant Program, which included the Teacher in Space project. “The Inspiration4 mission is a wonderful opportunity for this crew and a historical milestone along the long and winding road to space tourism,” he told SpaceNews.
“Having received thousands of letters from people who wanted to apply for the Space Flight Participant Program, I wish we were closer to space tourism opportunities reaching the mass-market phase,” he said. “Nonetheless, as the Inspiration4 crew has shown, one should never give up on a dream.”
• SpaceX’s first private crewed mission ended with the splashdown of the Crew Dragon spacecraft off the Florida coast on Sept. 18. 2021. 7)
- The Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience splashed down off the coast from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 7:06 p.m. EDT (23:06 UTC). The splashdown took place 50 minutes after the spacecraft started its deorbit burn.
- “Inspiration4, on behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to planet Earth,” Kris Young, SpaceX space operations director, said from SpaceX mission control moments after splashdown. “Your mission has shown that space is for all of us, and everyday people can make extraordinary impacts on the world around them.”
- “Thanks so much, SpaceX. It was a heck of a ride for us,” Jared Isaacman, the commander, responded. “Things are just getting started.”
- The splashdown wrapped up the Inspiration4 mission 71 hours after its Sept. 15 launch from the Kennedy Space Center. Isaacman, a billionaire, paid for the flight, intending to use it as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
- Accompanying Isaacman on the mission were Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at and former patient of St. Jude; Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and artist who won a competition affiliated with Isaacman’s online payments company, Shift4 Payments; and Chris Sembroski, selected through a raffle contest to raise money for St. Jude.
- In a 10-minute live video session Sept. 17, the crew appeared to be enjoying their time in orbit. They discussed activities ranging from biomedical research to taking pictures in a cupola installed in the nose of the spacecraft.
- In a call with reporters about an hour after splashdown, SpaceX and Inspiration4 officials said the mission went very well. “It was a very clean mission from start to finish,” said Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX. He described a problem with a fan in the spacecraft’s waste management system, but that the crew was “happy and healthy.” A temperature sensor in a Draco thruster malfunctioned, but he said both the sensor and the thruster itself were redundant.
- “The crew was able to complete the full-duration mission without any issues,” said Todd Ericson, Inspiration4 mission director. “There’s always one or two little hiccups along the way, but these were dealt with amazingly by the SpaceX team.”
- Inspiration4 has raised nearly $30 million for St. Jude since the launch, with about $60 million raised according to the project’s website. However, that is still far short of the goal of $100 million when Isaacman and SpaceX announced the mission in February. Inspiration4 said in a Sept. 17 statement that it hopes to raise $200 million, including $100 million Isaacman already donated, by February 2022.
- Inspiration4 was SpaceX’s fourth crewed flight, but the first not part of NASA’s commercial crew program. The splashdown is the third for a crewed Crew Dragon spacecraft; the Crew-2 spacecraft that launched in April is still docked to the International Space Station and scheduled to return in November.
- The next Crew Dragon mission for NASA, Crew-3, is scheduled for launch Oct. 31 carrying astronauts for NASA and the European Space Agency. The next private Crew Dragon mission is the Ax-1 mission for Axiom Space, which will launch no earlier than January 2022 and spend a week at the ISS.
- Reed said in the call there is growing demand for commercial Crew Dragon flights. “The amount of people who are approaching us through our sales and marketing portals has actually increased significantly,” he said, projecting that SpaceX could support five or six crewed missions a year between NASA and commercial customers. “If the demand is there, then we’ll want to look at what we can do to continue to grow that.”
- “This mission will be looked at as the first mission of the opening of the second space age, where space travel became much more accessible to average men and women across the world,” said Ericson.
3) Jeff Foust, ”Inspiration4 announces crew for private SpaceX Crew Dragon mission,” SpaceNews, 30 March 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
4) Jeff Foust, ”Inspiration4 private crewed mission nears launch,” SpaceNews, 10 September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/inspiration4-private-crewed-mission-nears-launch/
5) Jeff Foust, ”Commercial spaceflight industry sees Inspiration4 as a pathfinder but not a model,” SpaceNews, 15 September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
6) Jeff Foust, ”SpaceX launches Crew Dragon on first private mission,” SpaceNews, 15 September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/spacex-launches-crew-dragon-on-first-private-mission/
7) Jeff Foust, ”Crew Dragon splashes down to conclude Inspiration4 mission,” SpaceNews, 18 September 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/crew-dragon-splashes-down-to-conclude-inspiration4-mission/
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).