First private spacewalk scheduled for late 2022
Private spaceflight is gearing up for another milestone with news that Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 and commander of the private Inspiration4 orbital mission, is planning three new private space missions that will include the first private spacewalk and a flight aboard SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft.
On September 15, 2021, a fundamentally different space mission lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 575 km (357 miles), it was the first completely private mission in history, with a privately owned and operated rocket putting a privately owned and operated craft into space with private astronauts on a private charter.
Building on the success of this three-day flight, Isaacman now wants to send three more private missions into Earth orbit to conduct bio-research as well as raise funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The first of the Polaris Program missions, Polaris Dawn, is scheduled to lift off in "no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022" under the command of Isaacman, while a later mission will put the first astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft.
Isaacman says the five-day Polaris Dawn mission will lift off from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 and is planned to reach the highest altitude Earth orbit since the Apollo missions. Aboard will be a crew of four, consisting of Isaacman serving as Mission Commander, Mission Pilot Scott Poteet, Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis, and Mission Specialist and Medical Officer Anna Menon.
What really sets this mission apart is that it will attempt the first-ever commercial spacewalk. This is not only significant in itself, but will require a new ExtraVehicular Activity (EVA) space suit designed by SpaceX as an upgraded version of its current IntraVehicular Activity (IVA) suit.
The current suit isn't a proper space suit, but an emergency suit designed to protect the wearer in the event of an emergency cabin decompression and keep them alive until the capsule can return to Earth. An EVA suit requires not only a much greater degree of protection, but also flexible joints and other features to allow the astronaut to move around outside the spacecraft. As an analogy, it's like the difference between a snorkel and a mixed-gas deep-sea diving rig.
In addition to the spacewalk, the mission will also test the Starlink laser-based communications system and conduct medical experiments, including the use of ultrasound to monitor, detect, and quantify venous gas emboli (VGE), which is related to decompression sickness; the effect of space radiation on the human body; and Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS), which is the effect of weightlessness on human vision.
"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," said Isaacman. "On Polaris Dawn, we endeavor to achieve the highest Earth orbit ever flown [sic] in addition to conducting the world’s first commercial spacewalk and testing of Starlink laser-based communication. Alongside these important objectives, we will be supporting scientific research to advance both human health interests on Earth and our understanding of human health during future long-duration space flights."
Source: Polaris Program