More like Inspiration 4

As I said in my earlier post about Inspiration4, it won’t be the last of such flights. Here’s a list of some of the upcoming other Commercial Space crewed flights to orbit…

Axiom-1 to ISS

Axiom plans to fly the first of four, privately funded SpaceX Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station in January of 2022. These have been spread out at two flights per year. They’ve also arranged with NASA, to start in 2024, installing private space station modules currently under construction here on Earth. Axiom will orbit those on other launches, attach them to the ISS Harmony module using the station’s CanadaArm2, and supply crew for them. Eventually, when all four of its planned modules are built, joined together, and operating, they’ll detach the modules from the ISS to create the first independent, commercially funded space station…a replacement for the ISS. NASA will then become one of Axiom’s customers once the new station is operational.

I said that Axiom would have the first Commercial Crewed Space Station, I should say maybe they’ll have the first one…if someone else doesn’t beat them to it. They will not be alone in the building, orbiting, and crewing of private space stations. Bigelow Aerospace has had inflatable test stations in orbit, a small test module attached to the ISS, and even mostly complete space station modules waiting on the ground, for some time. They waited for over a decade for things like Inspiration4 to start happening so they could have a reliable means of sending people into orbit. Now, Bigelow’s new problem is that they’re joined at the hip with Boeing, whose Commercial Crew spacecraft hasn’t even had a successful uncrewed flight test yet, and might not until next summer. Boeing’s first flight had many software bugs, enough to prevent the capsule from making it to the ISS. Their second attempt never flew at all due to unexpected problems with some valves. Now the capsule is back in their facility while they correct that problem and wait in line for a new flight attempt in an increasingly busy ISS schedule. Maybe Bigelow will wait for them or maybe they’ll start booking flights on SpaceX Dragon instead. I know this much, Boeing needs to get their act together or they’ll hand SpaceX and Axiom a monopoly and a healthy space industry can’t be built that way. Once Boeing has a successful crewed flight though, Bigelow’s business should be ready to kick-off bigger and faster than Axiom’s.

Space Adventures 1000 km elliptical flight

I sure do wish I had more information on this. The Space Adventures space tourism company talks about gathering together a paying crew for a Dragon flight in late 2021 or early 2022, but I’ve seen no press releases since this spring and I don’t see them on the Falcon 9 launch schedule. I haven’t even seen a crew reveal yet, though someone told me that a crew was training. They intend to send people in a Crew Dragon capsule all the way out to 1000 Kilometers away from Earth…that’s almost twice as high as Inspiration4. Space Adventures has partnered with national space agencies to facilitate several tourist flights to orbit using Soyuz. Now they’ve partnered with SpaceX and advertise ISS trips, spaceflight training, spacewalks, orbital trips similar to Inspiration4, and even a trip around the Moon. I say advertised…but like I said earlier, I see no flights on the actual schedule. Perhaps their clients will step up in response to a successful Inspiration4 flight. Someone told me they saw it listed on a flight schedule after Axium-1, but I can’t find it. I’m still looking.

Space Adventures does plan to sent fly another guy, Yusaku Maezawa, on a twelve-day trip this coming December via a Russian Soyuz.

Tom Cruise film crew to ISS

He was supposed to fly on the Axiom-1 flight in January, but that has now has been postponed until some time in the future. I suspect that the production company either got sticker-shock when they saw what was likely a mid-eight-digit per seat price tag, or they realized that there wouldn’t be enough room on a tag-along trip with Axiom to give their investment enough opportunity to work for them. I think this will still happen once it’s been through a re-think.

We’ve known about this for a while. A Japanese billionaire-funded part of the development of the SpaceX Starship in exchange for the opportunity to fly himself and eight artists on a trip around the Moon. That mission still awaits the full completion of the Starship which appears to be ahead of schedule…with a first orbital (sort of) test flight launch imminent. Barring the timing of FAA approval, SpaceX wants to fly that test this year. NASA and the U.S. military have also joined the Starship enthusiast club, so the project has plenty of outside money. The main challenge right now involves risk to a nearby wildlife refuge should a fully fueled Starship and booster rocket explode on the pad. Once folks figure that all out, a Starship will try to fly into the ocean near Hawaii very soon after.

What does NASA think of all this? Well, SpaceX paid them $1M for a small amount of logistics support for Inspiration4, mostly just the use of their communication and tracking stations during the flight. Inspiration4…and probably all of these flights…are on the ISS orbital path so that they can all follow the tested human spaceflight routine as much as possible, sharing use of launch sites, emergency landing zones, tracking stations, etc. I expect that the first Axiom and Bigelow space stations will orbit there…partly because they’ll start out attached to the ISS and the fuel requirements to change orbit is very high. Who knows, maybe we’ll start out with some kind of orbiting city of space stations surrounding the ISS for a while.

As for Inspiration4, they return to Earth this evening at 7:00 pm Eastern.


~ by Bill Housley on September 18, 2021.

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