When SpaceX launched its Inspiration4 mission with four civilian crew members to space, it became the company’s first fully private launch to orbit.
On Wednesday (15 September), SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully launched the Inspiration4 mission – the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight to orbit – from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
“NASA’s efforts and investments, especially with the Commercial Crew Program, have enabled this activity in low-Earth orbit,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA’s goal is to be one of many customers in the commercial space market, and we’re excited that this mission with crew demonstrates the growing interest in commercial space services. It’s been an incredible year for human spaceflight, and this is just the beginning!”
“With the growth of commercial launch capabilities, Kennedy has embarked on a new era of space exploration,” says Kennedy Centre director Janet Petro. “With more than 90 private-sector partners and nearly 250 partnership agreements, the presence of commercial companies at the multi-user spaceport is larger than ever before.”
NASA is providing some support to SpaceX on a fully reimbursable and non-interference basis for Inspiration4, including integrated communications support among ground control sites and between the ground and space through the Near Space Network as well as a variety of on-site support at Kennedy.
“We have been working with private companies to transfer our knowledge of human spaceflight while allowing them to innovate their designs,” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters. “This partnership has proven to be very powerful because both NASA and the companies leverage their unique skills.”
NASA has an agreement with Axiom Space for the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station no earlier than January 2022. In addition, NASA is reviewing proposals for the next two private astronaut missions to the space station in 2022 and 2023. Making it possible for private astronaut missions to come to the space station is one part of a bigger plan to help NASA meet its future needs and enabling a strong market in low-Earth orbit.
Later this year NASA also will make a selection for the first phase of public-private partnerships to develop commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit, of which the agency can be one of many customers. NASA estimates the agency’s future needs in low-Earth orbit will require accommodations and training for at least two crew members continuously and the ability to perform approximately 200 investigations annually to support human research, technology demonstrations, biological and physical science, and the National Lab. NASA’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program received a strong industry response to its solicitation, and the agency’s goal is to make two to four awards for a total value of $300 to $400 million.
Kennedy manages the Commercial Crew Program, and the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is delivering on its goal of safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the US through a partnership with American private industry. This partnership is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next great leap in space exploration, including future astronaut missions to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.