The Crew Dragon capsule poised to fly four civilian astronauts to space this year is getting an upgrade: 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 as SpaceX and the team managing the tourist mission, Inspiration4, revealed the full crew for the upcoming expedition.
The glass dome-shaped window replaces Crew Dragon’s docking adapter at its nose since the spacecraft won’t be docking to the International Space Station. It’s similar to the famed cupola aboard the International Space Station, but Crew Dragon’s appears to be an uninterrupted sheet of glass, with no support structures dividing the window’s view.
Crew Dragon’s protective aerodynamic shell that shields the hatch door area during launch will pop open to expose the glass dome once the craft is safely in orbit. Based on the rendering SpaceX tweeted, the cupola would fit at least one crew member from the chest up, revealing panoramic views of space.
SpaceX designed Crew Dragon under a $2.6 billion contract from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private initiative to stimulate the development of privately built space capsules that’ll serve as NASA’s primary rides to space. Boeing is developing a competing capsule, Starliner, under the same program. Crew Dragon is already in its operational phase and flew its first two crews of government astronauts to space last year.
NASA, which certified Crew Dragon for astronaut flights last year, said it doesn’t plan to use the cupola version of Crew Dragon for NASA astronaut missions and that the window’s installation doesn’t require NASA safety approval.
“NASA currently does not have plans to fly a modified version of the Crew Dragon,” agency spokesman Josh Finch told ThinkAuthority. “As a fully commercial launch, NASA does not need to approve SpaceX’s design for the company’s private missions. NASA will continue to maintain insight into SpaceX’s systems through our normal work, including SpaceX sharing flight data from non-NASA missions.”
The charity-focused Inspiration4 mission, led by billionaire tech entrepreneur and Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, is slated to launch on September 15th, sending Isaacman and three other non-professional astronauts on a free-flying trip in Earth orbit for three days. It will use the Crew Dragon Resilience capsule that’s currently docked to the ISS in support of NASA’s Crew-1 mission, and the glass window will be installed during Resilience’s refurbishment in Florida after it returns.
“We’ve done all the engineering work, we continue to go through all the analysis and testing and qualification to ensure everything’s safe, and that it doesn’t preclude any use of this spacecraft for other missions,” Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of Crew Dragon mission management, said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The Inspiration4 crew includes Christopher Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer from Everett, Washington; Sian Proctor, a college professor from Tempe, Arizona; and previously announced Hayley Arceneaux, a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee and bone cancer survivor.
The new window was announced on the same day that Richard Branson’s space tourism firm, Virgin Galactic, unveiled an upgraded version of its suborbital spaceplane SpaceShipTwo called SpaceShip III.