by Douglas Messier
After 12 years living without billionaires– forgive me, spaceflight participants — floating around in space, the schedule is suddenly filling up with private orbital and suborbital flights. By January, we can expect to see paying customers on three American and Russian flights to the International Space Station (ISS), one Crew Dragon mission in Earth orbit, and two or more suborbital flights.
SpaceX and Roscomos will conduct two orbital missions apiece. Space Adventures will fly a client on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the first time in 12 years. Blue Origin is planning one suborbital flight and possible two more by the end of the year. Virgin Galactic has three flight tests planned with spaceflight participants in the cabin to evaluate the passenger experience.
Below is a rundown of the flights scheduled over the next eight months.
FIRST NEW SHEPARD CREWED FLIGHT
Blue Origin will fly people to space for the first time on the suborbital New Shepard capsule on the 52nd anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Jeff Bezos’ company is auctioning off one seat to the public. The winner bidder will be joined by fix spaceflight participants from Blue Origin.
It will be the 16th launch of the fully reusable New Shepard rocket and spacecraft. The flight will take place from Blue Origin’s facility near Van Horn, Texas. Participants will undergo three days of training with the flight taking place on the morning of the fourth day.
Blue Origin said it plans to conduct additional launches later this year that could carry 6 paying passengers each. The company hasn’t announced when seats will go on sale, or exactly how much they will cost. Company officials have previously said that tickets will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The funds raised by the auction of the first seat will benefit the Club for the Future, a non-profit established by Blue Origin to promote STEM education among students.
INSPIRATION4 CREW DRAGON FLIGHT
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA.
Billed as the first all-civilian spaceflight, the Inspiration4 mission will take a quartet of first-time space travelers into Earth orbit for three or four days aboard a modified Crew Dragon spacecraft. Billionaire Jared Isaacman, who is an experienced pilot rated to fly commercial and military jets, will serve as the flight’s commander. He is using the trip to promote his payment company, Shift4, and to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which treats cancer patients.
The rest of the crew will include: Hayley Arceneaux, a survivor of childhood cancer who works at St. Jude; Sian Proctor, an educator, entrepreneur and Shift4 customer who won a Shark Tank-style competition sponsored by Isaacman’s company; and Chris Sembroski, who entered a raffle by donating to St. Jude. (A friend of Sembroski actually won the raffle, but didn’t want to go on the trip.)
Because the Inspiration4 flight will not dock with the space station, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will have a transparent top that will allow the spaceflight participants to better view the Earth and space.
SOYUZ MS-19 FLIGHT TO ISS
Beating Tom Cruise to the punch, Roscosmos will launch actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to ISS to film a motion picture there. Cruise and Liman had planned to be the first to conduct filming on the station, but the project has been delayed.
“The feature film ‘Challenge’ is a part of a large-scale scientific and educational project, which also includes a series of documentaries to be shot about the rocket and space industry enterprises and specialists involved in the manufacturing of launch vehicles, spacecraft, and ground space infrastructure,” Roscosmos said in the press release.
“The project will become a clear example of the fact that spaceflights are gradually becoming available not only for professionals, but also for an increasingly wider range of those interested. In addition to educational tasks, a number of new technical and technological problems will be solved,” the release added.
Actress Alena Mordovina and director Alexey Dudin will serve as the backup crew. Galina Kairova, a graduate of the Krasnokutsk Flight School of Civil Aviation, was invited to continue the selection process for the cosmonaut corps.
Roscosmos launched an open competition at the end of last year to select the actress to star in the film. There were 20 finalists who underwent medical tests.
This will be the first Soyuz mission that will carry two spaceflight participants; previous flights carried one paying customer with two professional cosmonauts. Roscosmos has not revealed who will command the mission.
“Challenge” is a joint project of Roscosmos, Channel One and the Yellow, Black and White studio.
SOYUZ MS-20 FLIGHT TO ISS
Before he heads off to the moon with SpaceX, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will fly aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft on a 12-day to the space station. He will be joined by his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, on a flight commanded by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.
“I’m so curious ‘what’s life like in space’? So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world on my YouTube channel,” Maezawa said in a press release.
Hirano will be responsible for documenting Maezawa’s mission. He currently works at SPACETODAY as a film producer.
In June, Maezawa and Hirano will begin three months of training with Misurkin at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.
Maezawa booked the flight through U.S.-based Space Adventures. This is the first space tourism flight booked by Space Adventures since October 2009 when Canadian businessman Guy Laliberte flew to ISS. Space Adventures booked seven individuals on eight flights to the space station between 2001 and 2009. (Charles Simonyi flew twice.)
Maezawa, who made his fortune as founder of the online clothing retailer ZOZO, has also booked a circumlunar flight aboard SpaceX’s Starship that is scheduled for 2023.
Ax-1 CREW DRAGON FLIGHT TO ISS
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA.
Former NASA astronaut turned Axiom Space executive Michael Lopez-Alegria will command the company’s Ax-1 mission to ISS. The flight will include American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe. Connor will serve as pilot for the flight; Pathy and Stibbe will be mission specialists.
The flight won’t be just the ultimate joy ride. NASA has insisted that visitors to the station not just be there on holiday. As a result, the three paying customers will be conducting scientific experiments and STEM education activities during their stay.
Stibbe, who is a former Israeli Air Force fighter pilot, is going on behalf of the Ilan Ramon Foundation, an educational organization which was establish to honor the Israeli astronaut who perished in the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. Stibbe will be the second Israeli in space.
SPACESHIPTWO SUBORBITAL FLIGHT TESTS
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM
Virgin Galactic will conduct three flight tests with spaceflight participants in the passenger cabin to test the experience before beginning commercial space tourism service next year. The first flight will include four people, the second will have founder Richard Branson aboard, and the third will carry three Italian Air Force pilots training for spaceflight and conducting experiments on a revenue-generating launch.
The flight with the Italian pilots is expected to be the final one in the test program. VSS Unity and its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, VMS Eve, will spend about four months undergoing a series of upgrades. When the modifications are completed, the two vehicles will begin commercial service along with Virgin Galactic’s newest SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity.
Virgin Galactic had planned to complete flight tests in the fall and begin commercial service early next year. However, that schedule is uncertain due to “wear and tear” issues with VMS Eve the company had planned to address after flight tests were completed. The company plans to update its schedule next week.