Inspiration4 private crewed mission nears launch
Updated 1:20 p.m. Eastern with revised launch date.
WASHINGTON — SpaceX is gearing up for its first purely commercial human spaceflight, but many details about the mission remain unclear.
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.”