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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 civilian-only crew is planning additional missions that will include the first commercial spacewalk.

Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, said this week he hopes the privately funded space program, called Polaris, will help to rapidly advance human spaceflight programs while at the same time raising funds for causes on Earth.

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

Comprising four crewmembers, including Isaacman, the five-day Polaris Dawn mission is targeted for later this year and will fly higher than any previous Crew Dragon as it aims for the highest crewed Earth orbit ever flown, a record currently held by NASA’s Gemini 11 mission of 1966 when the spacecraft reached an Earth orbit of 854 miles (1,374 km).

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

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

Scientific research will also be carried out during the Polaris Dawn mission.

Flying to space alongside Isaacman will be three other amateur astronauts: Scott Poteet, a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot; Sarah Gillis, a lead space operations engineer at SpaceX, responsible for overseeing the company’s astronaut training program; and Anna Menon, also a lead space operations engineer at SpaceX.

Whether Polaris Dawn can launch this year depends on SpaceX overcoming challenges that include the creation of its own spacesuit for the planned spacewalk.

The Polaris Dawn Crew.
The Polaris Dawn crew. From left: 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 hasn’t attached a date to the first crewed Starship mission, understandable considering 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 spaceflight company, and further evidence of the rapidly changing landscape as private firms endeavor to open up space to more people beyond trained astronauts and space programs funded by government money.

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