Inspiration4: How much does SpaceX’s all-civilian space launch cost?

By Adam Smith
SpaceX/Inspiration4

Inspiration4, an all-civilian private space flight from SpaceX, is set to launch on 15 September.

A team of four astronauts – including a teacher, a cancer survivor, a raffle winner, and an internet entrepreneur - will leave Kennedy Space Center in a SpaceX Dragon capsule will be put on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. They will journey upwards to a maximum of 600 kilometres from Earth, and descend into the Atlantic Ocean after three days.

The mission’s purpose is predominantly marketing for private space travel, and the amount of money spent on the mission remains unknown. Jared Isaacman, the billionaire chief executive of Shift4 Payments, has an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion, and agreed a confidential deal with SpaceX to travel into orbit, but there are clues to how much it might have cost.

“This mission has been secured by a private transaction between Jared Isaacman and SpaceX. The terms are not being disclosed. Separately, Inspiration4 has a goal of raising over $200 million dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with Jared Isaacman personally committing $100 million”, says a statement on the space company’s FAQ page. The choice of charity is because its global impact “really resonated with Jared”.

Mr Isaacman’s company apparently “did not invest in the mission [and this] is very much a private transaction between Jared Isaacman and SpaceX.”

While it is not exactly clear how much money would have changed hands between Mr Isaacman and SpaceX, CEO Elon Musk has said since 2016 that the launch cost of a Falcon 9 rocket is $62 million, and SpaceX director of vehicle integration Christopher Couluris said in a briefing in 2020 that the company can “bring launches down to below $30 million per launch.”

″[The rocket] costs $28 million to launch it, that’s with everything,” Couluris said, adding that reusing the rockets is “bringing the price down.”

The Inspiration4 mission is likely to have accrued extra costs, however, given the additional resources needed because it will include a crew. Unlike most of its missions – the launch of its Starlink internet satellites, for instance – SpaceX will also have to make sure the crew are safe in orbit as well as when they land on the ground.

The cost of the launch is also likely to cost less than the money raised by the raffle ticket sales. Almost 72,000 people entered the competition, raising around $113 million – with the winner being chosen at random.

Critics of private space launches, who have levied complaints against billionaire CEOs including Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson taking vanity trips to high altitudes rather than spending their money solving the multitude of problems on Earth, will argue that this flight has little other meaning bar advertising for SpaceX.

On its FAQ, the company has an answer: that “hardship and suffering have unfortunately been present throughout human history, but we can no sooner turn away from the great need all around us than we can put innovation and progress on hold. We have to find ways to do both”.

It goes on to claim that Inspiration4 “represents an investment in the future, so we can solve the problems of tomorrow”, comparing it to the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the subsequent development of nuclear medicine.

“There have been a number of significant innovations and recent progress that we can attribute to space travel in our recent history alone, ranging from the health and medical advances such as improved water purification technology, greatly-improved human prosthetics, even bringing the world closer together through SpaceX Starlink program, would have been unaffordable had it not been for investments made years ago in reusable rocket technology”.


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