SpaceX and financial company Shift4 have announced what could become the world’s first private orbital astronaut launch – and two of Crew Dragon’s four seats are up for grabs in a public raffle for charity.
Spearheaded by US billionaire and Shift4 founder/CEO Jared Isaacman, the venture has been deemed Inspiration4 and is closely linked with the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and charity. On top of his purchase of a private SpaceX ride to orbit, Isaacman has committed to donate no less than $100 million to the medical non-profit and hopes to raise another ~$200 million by using the extraordinary venture to grab public attention.
Most notably, two of Inspiration4’s four available seats will be raffled at random – one to an individual who donates to St. Jude and the other to someone who starts an online store through Shift4Shop’s (formerly 3dcart) e-commerce platform. In other words, Inspiration4 represents the first time that almost any US resident (and possibly even a non-citizen, according to Elon Musk) has a real opportunity to launch into orbit.
This is the second private Crew Dragon launch firmly announced in recent months. In 2020, Axiom Space revealed that it had purchased a Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 launch to send the world’s first fully private mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Axiom announced the full crew manifest mere days ago and confirmed that the launch had slipped slightly from November or December 2021 to no earlier than (NET) January 2022.
Inspiration4 says it is currently aiming to launch NET Q4 2021, a target that – if kept – would make the venture the world’s first private orbital astronaut launch. Onboard will be Jared Isaacman himself, “a St. Jude ambassador with direct ties to the mission who exemplifies the pillar of Hope as well as the courageous vision upon which St. Jude was founded,” and two semi-random members of the public.
Unlike Axiom’s first contracted launch, Inspiration4 will be a free-flyer mission, meaning that Crew Dragon will serve as its own tiny space station for a reported “2-4 days” before reentering and returning its private astronaut crew back to Earth. This is the second free-flyer Crew Dragon mission announced after Space Adventures revealed an effort to book wealthy passengers to “break the world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight” in February 2020.
Inspiration4 is the fourth serious effort announced to launch private astronauts on a SpaceX Crew Dragon in the last 12 months and is unlikely to be the last. According to Isaacman, SpaceX’s medical screening attitude is focused on how to get someone into orbit, rather than how to ground someone from orbital spaceflight, significantly improving the odds that the ticket raffle will truly be random and that just about anyone will be able to launch on Crew Dragon (and, eventually, Starship) in years to come.