SpaceX won’t just have launched first all-civilian spaceflight — it should soon be home to a full-fledged private space program. According to The Washington Post, Shift4 founder and Inspiration4 leader Jared Isaacman has unveiled a Polaris Program initiative that will include “up to” three crewed SpaceX flights. The first, Polaris Dawn, is planned for the fourth quarter of 2022 and should include the first commercial spacewalk. The effort will ideally end with the first human-occupied Starship flight. Sorry, Moon tourists.
The Polaris Dawn team will also aim for the highest-ever Earth orbit, conduct health research and test laser-based Starlink communication. Isaacman will return as mission commander, while Inspiration4 mission director and Air Force veteran Scott Poteet will serve as pilot. Two of SpaceX’s lead operations engineers will also be aboard, including Anna Menon and Sarah Gillis. Menon’s role is symbolic of the shift toward private spaceflight — her husband Anil was chosen to become a NASA astronaut, but she’ll likely reach space before her spouse does.
The program hinges on SpaceX and partners solving a number of problems. SpaceX is developing spacesuits necessary for the spacewalk, and Isaacman’s group hasn’t yet decided how many crew members will step outside. Starship also carries some uncertainty. While there’s been ample testing and plenty of progress, development of the next-gen rocket system hasn’t always gone according to plan. Expect the Polaris Program to have a relatively loose schedule, and possibly a few setbacks.
Even so, this represents a further normalization of private spaceflight. While the Polaris Program continues a recent ‘tradition’ of civilian flights led by billionaires (Isaacman is no exception), it also promises to commercialize aspects that were still reserved for government astronauts, such as spacewalks and testing new spacecraft (NASA astronauts helmed SpaceX’s Demo-2). Don’t be shocked if private crews fulfill other roles in the near future.