SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission ushered in a new era of private spaceflight

SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission ushered in a new era of private spaceflight: Inspiration4 may be over, but several other missions are set to follow in its pioneering footsteps.

Inspiration4 sent four private citizens on a three-day trip around Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, the first crewed orbital mission that involved no professional astronauts.

The historic flight ended Saturday (September 18) with a splash of the sea off the Florida coast. But we won’t have to wait long for more business trips to Earth orbit like Inspiration4.

They’re coming thick and fast over the next few months, potentially paving the way for a substantial private presence in the last frontier.

“Congratulations #Inspiration4! Low-Earth Orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space. We look forward to the future – one where @NASA is one of many customers in the commercial space market.” Onward and up!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said via Twitter on Wednesday (Sept. 15) just after Inspire 4 lifted off.

Before Inspiration4, orbital space tourism existed, which was booked, paid for, and commanded by tech billionaire Jared Isaacman.

From 2001 to 2009, seven people made eight trips to the International Space Station (ISS) to and from the orbiting outpost aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Those flights were brokered by Space Adventures, a Virginia-based company, and each placed a paying customer on a Soyuz with two Russian astronauts.

Private citizens spent about a week on the space station, then came back to Earth.

No space tourist went into orbit again until Inspiration4 took off. But this time the gap will be measured in mere weeks instead of years.

On October 5, for example, director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild are scheduled to depart for the ISS aboard a Soyuz, commanded by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.

Once they get to the orbiting lab, Shipenko and Peresild will film scenes from a Russian movie called “The Challenge.”

Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, partners in the film project with Russia’s Channel One and Moscow-based film studio Yellow, Black and White. So it’s safe to assume that Shipenko and Peresild aren’t billing for their travels.

But another upcoming trip to the ISS fits the traditional space-tourism mold — that of billionaire businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who will aboard the Soyuz orbiting laboratory this December on a trip brokered by Space Adventures.

Maezawa will fly with video producer Yozo Hirano, who will document the experience, and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

Then, in January 2022, a SpaceX Crew Dragon is scheduled to take three paying customers to the ISS on a mission organized by the Houston company Axiom Space.

Axiom hired former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria to command the mission, known as Ax-1.

Axiom also signed a deal with SpaceX for three additional flights to the orbiting lab that are expected to launch over the next two years.

And two of those future missions will feature a crew selected through a reality TV show competition — in one case “Space Hero” and Discovery Channel’s “Who Wants to Be an Astronaut?” for another.

This is just a partial list. Last year, for example, Space Adventures announced plans to take four paying customers into Earth orbit aboard Crew Dragon.

That mission, which is broadly similar to that of Inspiration4, was said to be targeted for late 2021 or early 2022. The Virginia company is offering two seats on an ISS-bound Soyuz in 2023 — and one of those two customers will have to build one. Spacewalk, first time performed by a private citizen.

And space tourism will soon overtake Earth orbit if everything goes according to plan.

Maezawa has booked a round-the-moon trip on SpaceX’s new deep-space transportation system, Starship, which remains in development. The launch of that flight, called DearMoon, is targeted for 2023.


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