SpaceX will send billionaire Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman back to space as part of a series of missions dubbed the Polaris Program.
Isaacman, who funded and served as commander of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 flight in September, has agreed to purchase three additional private spaceflights, including Starship’s first fully crewed mission.
“The Polaris Program is an important step in advancing human space exploration while helping to solve problems through the use of innovative technology here on Earth,” Isaacman said in a statement.
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Financial terms of the purchase have not been disclosed.
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Similar to Inspiration4, the Polaris Program will raise money and awareness for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Inspiration4 raised over $240 million, according to its website.
The first mission, dubbed Polaris Dawn, will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022 from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A. The mission will aim to reach the highest orbit ever flown and mark the Dragon space capsule’s highest altitude flown to date.
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In addition to Isaacman, the crew will be consist of retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and Inspiration4 mission director Scott “Kidd” Poteet, and SpaceX engineers Sara Gillis and Anna Menon. Poteet will serve as the mission’s pilot, while Gillis and Menon will serve as mission specialists.
The Polaris Dawn crew will be in orbit for a total of five days, traveling through portions of the Van Allen radiation belt and conducting research to better understand the effects of spaceflight and space radiation on human health. During the trip, the crew will attempt the first-ever spacewalk on a commercial spaceflight using SpaceX’s extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits. They will also be the first crew to test Starlink’s laser-based communications in space.
After Polaris Dawn, SpaceX will launch a second mission that will “continue to expand the boundaries of future human spaceflight missions, in-space communications, and scientific research,” followed by Starship’s first human spaceflight.
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Starship, currently in development, is expected to have the capacity to carry up to 100 people and more than 100 tons of cargo, according to a user guide posted by SpaceX.
The fully reusable launch vehicle should be able to reach orbits for less than $10 million a flight within two to three years, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said during a presentation at the aerospace giant’s Boca Chica, Texas facility last week.
SpaceX conducted limited tests for Starship last year, with some of the prototypes exploding. In May, the company completed Starship’s first successful landing.
In addition to the Polaris Program, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has purchased a private flight on Starship, dearMoon, slated for 2023. NASA also awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract last April to develop Starship and bring its astronauts back to the Moon for the first time in decades under its Artemis program.