Billionaire Jared Isaacman, who chartered the first all-civilian orbital spaceflight, announced three more private missions with SpaceX on Monday — including spacewalks and culminating in the first manned flight of the next-generation Starship rocket.
The first, called Polaris Dawn, will take place no earlier than the fourth quarter of this year and will be led by Isaacman, the founder of payment processing company Shift4, according to a statement.
The program represents a new step for the commercial space sector as Elon Musk’s SpaceX aims to conduct ambitious exploration missions, hitherto the domain of national space agencies.
The price has not been disclosed by Isaacman or SpaceX, but is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Isaacman is a veteran pilot who led the Inspiration4 mission last year, in which four civilian crew members completed a three-day orbital mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon, raising $240 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“At Polaris Dawn, we aim to achieve the highest Earth orbit ever, in addition to conducting the world’s first commercial spacewalk and testing Starlink laser-based communications,” he said in a statement.
Launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket, the Polaris Dawn crew will orbit for up to five days, higher than any Dragon has gone to date.
The website for the program didn’t specify an elevation, but said it would include an orbit through the Van Allen radiation belt, which protects Earth from solar wind.
The inner Van Allen belt is 400 to 6,000 miles (640 to 9,700 kilometers) above the surface.
The crew, including former United States Air Force Colonel Scott Poteet as a pilot, and two SpaceX employees — mission specialist Sarah Gillis and mission specialist and medical officer Anna Menon — will conduct the first commercial spacewalk at about 480 miles.
During the mission, they will also test laser-based communications in space using SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, and conduct medical research such as studying decompression sickness, the effects of space radiation and the effects of spaceflight on eye health.
The last of the three missions will involve a SpaceX Starship rocket, which when completed will be the largest and most powerful spacecraft ever built.
Musk sees it as key to fulfilling his vision of colonizing Mars, while NASA has contracted a stripped-down version as a lunar lander for the Artemis program that will return humans to the moon around the middle of this decade.
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