An illustration depicts SpaceX's Starship in orbit. Image courtesy of SpaceX
ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 14 (UPI) -- SpaceX plans to launch a new private astronaut mission, Polaris Dawn, from Florida as early as Nov. 1 and will attempt to conduct the first private spacewalk in history, the company announced Monday.
Businessman Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of the payments company Shift4, will command the mission, having previously he led the first all-private orbital mission in September known as Inspiration4. Isaacman is an experienced jet pilot.
The crew will also include two SpaceX engineers, Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon, as mission specialists and Isaacman's business associate, Scott "Kidd" Poteet, as pilot.
The flight will attempt to achieve a higher orbit than even the highest flights during the U.S. space program's Gemini missions that flew 853 miles above the Earth with astronauts Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon.
If all goes well with Polaris Dawn, SpaceX and Isaacman intend to launch two more private missions, culminating in the first crewed flight of SpaceX's deep space Starship rocket.
"I obviously have loved ... aviation and aerospace my entire life," Isaacman said during a teleconference with reporters Monday. "And I just feel incredibly fortunate to really be, almost a fly on the wall with everything that SpaceX is accomplishing and what they hope to deliver by making humankind a multiplanetary species."
The mission is a collaboration between SpaceX and Isaacman, a billionaire. Like Inspiration4, Polaris missions will also raise funds for Memphis-based St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
"I'm personally as committed to seeing the SpaceX vision of a world ... where people can journey among the stars as I am to St. Jude and their vision that no child should die in the dawn of life," Isaacman said.
Gillis heads up astronaut training at SpaceX, while Menon manages the development of crew operations and serves as a mission control director. Menon is married to NASA astronaut candidate Anil Menon.
Some details of the mission are still unknown, Isaacman and the crew members said Monday. For example, SpaceX's spacesuit for the spacewalk, also known as an Extravehicular Activity or EVA, is still under development.
Dragon has no airlock, so all four crew members will don protective spacesuits while the entire capsule is depressurized and one member exits for the spacewalk. The capsule will carry enough oxygen to re-pressurize afterward, Isaacman said.
The crew will perform various medical and health experiments during the flight, which will launch from SpaceX's Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
The Dragon capsule will pass through the Van Allen Radiation Belt, which has higher radiation levels than a lower orbit, during the flight, Menon said.
"There are a number of things in place to help protect the crew from radiation exposure while in space ... for all Dragon missions," she said. "We'll also be making sure to [measure] the radiation exposure during flight so that we'll make sure all the crew are safe."
The Polaris Dawn mission also will test SpaceX's Starlink satellite communications network in space for the first time.
Isaacman said he hopes the Starlink connectivity will enable fewer dropouts in communication with Earth than the Inspiration4 mission encountered. During the previous flight, the capsule had a good signal only 80% of the time, he said.
Inspiration4, the world's first all-civilian mission to space, safely returns to Earth while splashing down
on the Atlantic Ocean outside of Florida, on September 18, 2021, following their groundbreaking three-day mission. Photo courtesy of SpaceX | License Photo