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Falcon 9 and the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: SpaceX.

Inspiration4 mission ready to fly to space

On Wednesday evening, September 15, 2021 at 20:02 EDT (local time) / Thursday morning, September 16 at 00:02 UTC, the American aerospace manufacturer and telecommunications services provider SpaceX, will launch the crewed Inspiration4 mission into orbit atop one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets.

The two-stage, liquid-fueled, medium-lift launch vehicle will blast off from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission into a low Earth orbit.

The Inspiration4 mission

The Inspiration4 mission is a multi-day crewed flight to Earth’s orbit and the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission. The Crew Dragon, which will ride atop the Falcon 9, will carry the four crew members Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Dr. Sian Proctor into an orbit higher than the one of the International Space Station.

The primary objectives of this historic mission are to raise at least $200 million for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and to study the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

The Inspiration4 crew members

Jared Isaacman

Jared Isaacman is the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, an adventurer and accomplished jet pilot, holding several world records, including two Speed-Around-The-World flight records. Isaacman is the one who initiated the Inspiration4 mission and who payed for the whole flight. He will serve as the mission’s commander.

Hayley Arceneaux

Hayley Arceneaux is a physician assistant at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a pediatric cancer survivor, who was treated at the St. Jude Hospital. She will be the mission’s medical officer.

Chris Sembroski

Chris Sembroski is an aerospace data engineer and an U.S. Air Force veteran. He will be the mission’s mission specialist.

Dr. Sian Proctor

Dr. Sian Proctor, the fourth member of the Inspiration4 mission, is a geoscientist, entrepreneur and trained pilot. She will serve as the Crew Dragon’s pilot during the multi-day spaceflight.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft

The Crew Dragon is a crewed spacecraft operated by SpaceX and normally used to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back down to Earth. The vehicle is 8.1 m in height, 4 m in diameter, has a launch mass of over 12 tonnes and its capabale of carrying seven astronauts into low Earth orbit.

The spacecraft consists of the pressurized crew section and the unpressurized trunk, which is equipped with solar arrays needed to generate the required electricity while in orbit.

Besides flying humans, the vehicle is also able to carry around six tonnes of cargo into space and three tonnes back down to the planet.

To reduce the costs of each launch, SpaceX reuses the capsules after each mission. The Crew Dragon used for the Inspiration4 mission, Crew Dragon Resilience, first flew into space in November 2020, carrying the SpX Crew-1 astronauts to the space station.

For additional safety, the Dragon is equipped with four Super Draco thrusters, which in the event of a launch failure are able to fly the crew to a save distance from the rocket. SpaceX demonstrated this ability during a pad abort test and an in-flight abort test.

For the Inspiration4 mission, SpaceX installed an observation dome, similiar to the ISS’ Cupola, to the top of the capsule, replacing the docking mechanism normally used to dock to the orbital laboratory.

Falcon 9 and the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: SpaceX.
Falcon 9 and the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: SpaceX.

The Falcon 9 rocket

The Falcon 9 is a two-stage, partially-reusable, medium-lift launch vehicle developed and operated by SpaceX. The Falcon 9 Block 5, the latest version of the vehicle and the rocket used to launch the upcoming Inspiration4 mission, is 65 m to 70 m in height, 3.7 m in diameter and has a launch mass of around 549 tonnes.

The rocket’s first stage is equipped with nine Merlin rocket engines, burning the rocket kerosene “RP-1” and liquid oxygen (LOX) as propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. Each engine generates about 845 kN of thrust, enabling the Falcon 9 to carry up to 22,800 kg of cargo into a low Earth orbit, or 8,300 kg into a geostationary transfer orbit.

The rocket’s second stage, which separates from the booster stage about 2 1/2 minutes into the flight, is powered by a single, vacuum-optimized Merlin engine and carrys the payload into its target orbit. Due to its restart capability, the stage is capable of launching multiple spacecraft into different orbits in a single launch. In fact, during a mission in January of this year, a Falcon 9 launched a record setting 143 satellites into a low Earth Sun-synchronous orbit.

A Falcon 9 launches a crewed Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. Image Credit: SpaceX.

From the beginning, SpaceX tried to lower the cost of a Falcon 9, by reusing several components of the vehicle multiple times. To achive this goal, the rocket’s first stage conducts up to three additional burns of its engines after separating from the upper stage, to slow down ahead of a soft landing on one of SpaceX’ three autonomous droneships, or at one of the three landing sites at Cape Canaveral (LZ-1 and LZ-2) in Florida and the Vandenberg SFB (LZ-4) in California. The booster used for the upcoming mission, booster B1062, will perform its third flight and is expected to land back on Earth on the droneship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean.

A Falcon 9 first stage lands back at Landing Zone 1 at the Cape Canaveral SFS in Florida. Image Credit: SpaceX.

The Falcon 9 had its maiden flight in 2010 and has since flown over 120 missions. The rocket not only launches satellites into orbit, but also carries supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services contracts and the Commercial Crew Program.

Mission profile

At T-3 seconds, the nine Merlin rocket engines on Falcon 9’s first stage will ignite, lifting the Crew Dragon and its passengers off the launch pad and toward low Earth orbit.

About one minute into the flight, the rocket will experience “Max-Q”, the point of maximum mechanical stress, and will break the sound barrier.

2 minutes and 37 seconds after launch, the nine Merlin engines will shut down, the booster stage will separate from the second stage and the single, vacuum-optimized Merlin engine of the upper stage will ignite.

A few minutes later, at T+7 min and 30 s, the first stage will begin its entry burn, to slow down ahead of the landing on the droneship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean.

While the booster returns to Earth, the second stage will continue to boost the Inspiration4 astronauts into orbit. The stage is expected to shut down around nine minutes into the mission, bringing an end to the powered phase of flight.

At T+9 min, 4 s, the rocket’s first stage will reignite its engines a second time to perform its landing burn. The Falcon 9 is then expected to deploy its four landing legs and to softly touch down on “Just Read the Instructions”, to be reused on a future mission.

Twelve minutes and nine seconds after liftoff, Crew Dragon Resilience will be separated from the second stage into low Earth orbit. The capsule will then utilize its own onboard propulsion system, to raise its transfer orbit to an altitude of 575 km.

For the next couple of days, the four-person crew will orbit Earth, before returning back to the planet.


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