Feb 14, 2022 - Science

SpaceX to launch three additional private missions

A close-up of a rocket launching to space

A Falcon 9 rocket takes off. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX is planning to launch at least three private missions in the coming years, culminating in the first crewed flight of the company's Starship next-generation rocket.

Why it matters: These privately-funded missions — collectively known as the Polaris program — are further evidence that private companies are now occupying a domain once reserved for the wealthiest nations.

What's happening: The first mission, Polaris Dawn, is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of this year and will be commanded by Jared Isaacman — the billionaire leader of last year's Inspiration4 mission that became SpaceX's first private, crewed mission to orbit.

  • Polaris Dawn will make use of SpaceX's Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket, the same system used for Inspiration4.
  • Isaacman said during a press call Monday that the missions are funded with contributions from both him and SpaceX, though the exact financial details were not disclosed.

The big picture: "Dragon and the Polaris Dawn crew will spend up to five days in orbit, flying higher than any Dragon mission to-date and endeavoring to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown," according to a mission description. The crew will also conduct a spacewalk and perform experiments.

  • Isaacman will be joined on the mission by pilot Scott Poteet and two mission specialists from SpaceX: Sarah Gillis, an astronaut trainer who helped get Isaacman ready for Inspiration4, and Anna Menon, who will serve as the medical officer.
  • Gillis and Menon said they were specifically asked to join the mission by Isaacman.
  • Polaris Dawn's objectives will include in-space tests of Starlink satellite communications, research on human health and a spacewalk with spacesuits developed by SpaceX.

What's next: The next Polaris mission will also fly using the Dragon capsule, with the third mission in the series making use of Starship.

  • Timing for those two missions hasn't yet been made public.
  • Isaacman, who helped St. Jude Children's Research Hospital raise over $240 million through Inspiration4, said Polaris program missions will continue to help raise funds and awareness for the hospital.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios podcast How it Happened: The Next Astronauts for an in-depth look at the Inspiration4 mission.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout.

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