Why SpaceX's First Commercial Mission Is More Exciting—and Risky—Than Bezos' and Branson's

On September 15, SpaceX will make history by launching the first all-civilian crew into a low-Earth orbit. The mission, Inspiration4, will prove a riskier and possibly more exciting venture than other recent commercial space flights.

The Inspiration4 will be the third prominent commercial space mission this year, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both aiming for space in July of this year. However, Elon Musk's SpaceX plans to go that bit further than its rivals.

Whereas the missions that carried Virgin founder Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to space were sub-orbital and just touched the boundary between our atmosphere and space, Inspiration4 will go into a low-earth orbit at about 370 miles from the planet's surface.

The Inspiration4 crew will then spend three days orbiting the planet at 22 times the speed of sound, completing an orbit once every 90 minutes before returning to its surface.

"Inspiration4 is an orbital flight, rather than a suborbital flight as in the last two commercial missions," Davide Amato, professor of Aerospace Engineering at Imperial College, London, told Newsweek. "This is reflected in the mission duration—three days for Inspiration4 against 10 to 30 minutes for the Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic suborbital flights.

"This is due to SpaceX using a much more powerful launcher in the Falcon 9 than Blue Origin's New Shepard, and Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, which allows them to reach the very high speeds required to sustain orbital spaceflight."

Branson's mission, which took place on July 11, saw the billionaire fly to an altitude of 53 miles above Earth's surface aboard SpaceShipTwo, an aircraft built by Virgin Galactic's sister company, The Spaceship Company.

That means while Branson's flight, a test run for the flights Virgin Galactic will offer to the public next year, hit the altitude recognized by NASA, the U.S. military and the Federal Aviation Administration as the edge of space, it missed the internationally recognized edge of space at 62 miles.

Bezo's Blue Origin mission abroad the New Shephard reusable spacecraft on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing, soared to an altitude of 62 miles above Earth, thus meeting this international limit.

The Inspiration4 mission abroad the Crew Dragon Resilience (Dragon C207) will not just exceed both of these limits, but will also reach higher into space than the International Space Station, which orbits Earth at around 260 miles, or the Hubble Space Telescope at around 340 miles above the Earth.

In fact, the Inspiration4 flight will reach higher than any human spaceflight mission to Earth orbit barring the Gemini 10 and Gemini11 missions in 1966,which reached 408 miles and 739 miles above Earth's surface respectively.

Inspiration4 will also break records with its crew, which includes Hayley Arceneaux, the youngest American to venture into space and the first astronaut with a prosthetic.

"I am very happy that these missions are launching with a diverse crew, and that they are stimulating the public interest in spaceflight at a level that perhaps we haven't seen since the 1960s," added Amato. "Getting to space is hard and expensive, and there's still so much that we don't know."

The Inspiration4 Crew
The Inspiration4 team pictured in their space suits on September 12, 2021. Their three-day mission will see them reach an altitude of around 370 miles above The Earth. Inspiration4