A Crew Dragon version tailored for tourists gets a better view
The Crew Dragon capsule ready to take four civilian astronauts into space this year is being upgraded: a glass dome will be added at the top to give space tourists a 360 degree view of the cosmos. Plans for the window were announced on Tuesday when SpaceX and the team that manages the tourist mission, Inspiration4, revealed the full crew for the next expedition.
The glass dome-shaped window replaces the Crew Dragon docking adapter on its nose, since the spacecraft will not dock with the International Space Station. It is similar to the famous dome aboard the International Space Station, but Crew Dragon’s appears to be an uninterrupted sheet of glass, with no supporting structures dividing the view from the window.
The protective aerodynamic shell of the Crew Dragon that protects the hatch door area during launch will open to expose the glass dome once the ship is in safe orbit. Based on the tweeted SpaceX rendering, the dome would fit at least one crew member from the chest up, revealing panoramic views of space.
SpaceX designed the Crew Dragon under a $ 2.6 billion contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private initiative to stimulate the development of privately-built space capsules that will serve as NASA’s main trips into space. Boeing is developing a competing capsule, Starliner, in the same program. Crew Dragon is already in its operational phase and took its first two crews of government astronauts into space last year.
NASA, which certified Crew Dragon for astronaut flights last year, said it does not plan to use the dome version of Crew Dragon for NASA astronaut missions and that installing the window does not require NASA safety approval.
“NASA currently has no plans to fly a modified version of the Crew Dragon,” agency spokesman Josh Finch told The Verge. “As a fully commercial launch, NASA does not need to approve the SpaceX project for the company’s private missions. NASA will continue to maintain a view of SpaceX systems through our normal work, including sharing SpaceX flight data from non-NASA missions. “
The charity-focused Inspiration4 mission, led by billionaire tech entrepreneur and CEO of Shift4 Payments, Jared Isaacman, is scheduled to launch on September 15, sending Isaacman and three other non-professional astronauts on an orbit free flight. Earth for three days. He will use the Crew Dragon Resilience capsule that is currently docked on the ISS in support of NASA’s Crew-1 mission, and the glass window will be installed during the Resilience renovation in Florida after his return.
“We did all the engineering work, we continue to go through all the analysis, testing and qualification to ensure that everything is safe and that it does not prevent any use of this spaceship for other missions,” Benji Reed, director of SpaceX Mission Management, Dragon Crew said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The Inspiration4 team includes Christopher Sembroski, an engineer at Lockheed Martin of Everett, Washington; Sian Proctor, a university professor from Tempe, Arizona; and previously announced Hayley Arceneaux, an employee of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a bone cancer survivor.
The new window was announced the same day that Richard Branson’s space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, unveiled an updated version of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane called SpaceShip III.