SpaceX aiming for first commercial spacewalk this year

A billionaire entrepreneur who spent several days in orbit last year as part of SpaceX’s first crew is planning additional missions, including the first commercial spacewalk.

Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, said this week that he hopes the privately funded space program, called Polaris, will help advance human space programs quickly while raising money for charities on Earth.

Polaris will consist of three missions. The first, Polaris Dawn, like Isaacman’s recent Inspiration4 mission, will use thoroughly tested SpaceX hardware, most notably a Falcon 9 launch vehicle and a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The five-day Polaris Dawn mission, consisting of four crew members, including Isaacman, is scheduled for later this year and will fly higher than any previous Crew Dragon as it aims for the highest manned Earth orbit ever flown, a record currently being set. preserved by NASA’s 1966 Gemini 11 mission, when the spacecraft reached an orbit of 1,374 km.

The mission will also take the first commercial spacewalk, in other words, one not funded by NASA or any other government-sponsored space agency.

The crew will also be the first to conduct tests on SpaceX’s recently deployed laser-based Starlink satellites, which could provide vital communications links for NASA’s upcoming manned missions to the moon and beyond.

Scientific research will also be done during the Polaris Dawn mission.

In addition to Isaacman, three other amateur astronauts fly to space: Scott Poteet, a retired United States Air Force fighter pilot; Sarah Gillis, chief of space operations engineer at SpaceX, responsible for overseeing the company’s astronaut training program; and Anna Menon, also a chief engineer for space operations at SpaceX.

Whether Polaris Dawn can launch this year will depend on whether or not SpaceX overcomes challenges, including creating its own spacesuit for the planned spacewalk.

The Polaris Dawn crew. From left to right: Anna Menon, Scott Poteet, Jared Isaacman and Sarah Gillis. Polaris Program / John Kraus

While the Polaris program’s second mission will also use a Crew Dragon, the third will take a giant leap by becoming the first crewed mission on SpaceX’s next-generation Starship vehicle.

Isaacman has not added a date to the first crewed Starship mission, understandably since SpaceX has yet to send the rocket-and-spacecraft combo on its first orbital test flight, a highly anticipated event that could happen next month.

Isaacman’s grand Polaris plan takes SpaceX from a spaceflight provider to a space program organizer, a first for a commercial space company, and further evidence of the rapidly changing landscape as private companies attempt to open up space for more people than just trained astronauts and funded space programs. with government money.

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