Polaris Dawn: The first commercial spacewalk mission could fly this summer

The commercial spacewalk mission is the first in a program culminating in the first crewed launch of Starship.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the Polaris Dawn spacewalk.
An artist's impression of the Polaris Dawn spacewalk.

Polaris Program 

SpaceX's massive Starship launch system took to the skies for the first time last week. Shortly afterward, SpaceX was forced to trigger the rocket's termination system as it started to veer off course.

All in all, though, the first fully-integrated Starship and Super Heavy flight test was deemed a success.

"A big step towards a more exciting future.. Congratulations SpaceX on the big test," Shift4 founder Jared Isaacman tweeted at the time.

And he should know, as he will be part of the first crewed mission to fly aboard Starship. The first crewed Starship launch will be the third of the Polaris program, beginning with the Polaris Dawn mission.

Isaacman recently pointed out that Polaris Dawn could take off atop a Falcon 9 rocket as early as "late summer". That mission will tick off several impressive milestones, including the first commercial spacewalk in history.

The launch of Polaris Dawn

Polaris Dawn was initially scheduled to launch at the end of 2022. However, it was delayed because additional training was required for its civilian crew. Modifications were also needed for the Crew Dragon capsule to carry the crew members to space.

Now, billionaire Jared Isaacman, who funded and will be the mission commander for Polaris Dawn, has responded to someone on Twitter asking if a summer launch is possible. "I am optimistic late summer is still a real possibility. That is what we are training towards," Isaacman, who also commanded the Inspiration 4 mission, wrote.

Polaris Dawn: The first commercial spacewalk mission could fly this summer
The Polaris Dawn crew, from left to right: Scott Poteet, Sarah Gillis, Jared Isaacman, and Anna Menon.

When it does take to the skies, the Polaris Dawn mission will launch a crew of four: Isaacman, Anna Menon, Scott Pottet, and Sarah Gillis. None of the team are trained astronauts, but they all have experience in aviation and spaceflight operations.

They will take lift off aboard a Crew Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Massive Polaris Dawn milestones

SpaceX had already launched Isaacman and an all-civilian crew before with the Inspiration 4 mission that orbited Earth for four days. Polaris Dawn, however, will go a step further.

On the Polaris Program's website, the organization explains that Polaris Dawn "will take advantage of Falcon 9 and Dragon's maximum performance, flying higher than any Dragon mission to date and endeavoring to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown."

Once there, it will perform the highest-altitude spacewalk, the first commercial spacewalk, and the first spacewalk out of a Crew Dragon. Aside from breaking records, the crew will also help to further space science by flying through the Van Allen radiation belt.

"Orbiting through portions of the Van Allen radiation belt, Polaris Dawn will conduct research with the aim of better understanding the effects of spaceflight and space radiation on human health."

When will humans fly aboard Starship?

Before Starship can carry humans for the first time, the Polaris Program must carry its first two Falcon 9 missions. Interestingly, the first set of crewed Starship missions is scheduled to be private affairs, unlike the crewed agency missions SpaceX first carried out with NASA aboard Falcon 9.

The Polaris III mission is set to launch aboard Starship, though no date is currently set for that mission. Meanwhile, Japanese billionaire and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has chartered Starship for his dearMoon mission, which will send himself and eight artists on the first all-civilian mission around the Moon.

Polaris Dawn: The first commercial spacewalk mission could fly this summer
An artist's impression of the dearMoon mission.

Both of these missions will precede NASA's Artemis III Moon landing, which will use Starship as a lunar lander, and is currently scheduled for 2025 or 2026. The dearMoon team, meanwhile, hopes the civilian mission will take flight later this year. However, SpaceX may have to overcome a few hurdles in the development of Starship that could potentially delay that launch, and Polaris III, for some time.

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