A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, carrying a four-person crew in one of its Crew Dragon capsules. Lift-off for the mission known as “Inspiration4” was at 0002 GMT, 16 September, and the Resilience capsule was placed into a 200 km parking orbit. The capsule then manoeuvred itself into an orbit at 575 km at 51.6 degrees inclination for most of its three-day stint in orbit.
Inspiration4 is a privately funded mission with the crew being made up of non-professional civilian astronauts. This marks a milestone for the commercialisation of spaceflight. The mission’s benefactor (and one of the participants) is billionaire Jared Isaacman, who contracted with SpaceX for the venture in February. He has been joined by Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St Jude’s hospital, Chris Sembroski, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, and Dr Sian Proctor, a professor of geoscience at South Mountain Community College in Arizona.
The Falcon 9 first stage successfully landed on the drone barge Just Read The Instructions downrange in the Atlantic Ocean at approximately T+9 minutes 30 seconds. This was the second flight of this first stage.
Update on 20/09/2021: At 2306 GMT on 18 September the Crew Dragon Resilience successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. Because of uncertainty over the eventual re-entry location SpaceX placed recovery vessels in both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Procedures for re-entry began the day before splashdown as the capsule descended to an orbit of circa 365 km. This was followed by the closing of its forward hatch and the crew donning their launch and re-entry suits at 0932 GMT on re-entry day. Then at 2211 GMT the attached power-generating trunk section was jettisoned, its role finished. Five minutes later Resilience fired its Draco thrusters to commence its 15-minute de-orbit burn.
All four parachutes – reportedly only three are necessary for a safe splash down – deployed from the Dragon on schedule at 2302 GMT. The entire re-entry and descent procedure was conducted autonomously by the capsule (the crew had been trained to take over manual control if required).