US billionaire Jared Isaacman, who led the all-civilian Inspiration4 trip to space last year, has unveiled a programme of new private missions with SpaceX, including the first crewed flight of its Starship rocket.
Mr Isaacman, the founder and chief executive of payments-processing firm Shift4 Payments, revealed the details of the Polaris Program — named after the north star and paying homage to the great space programmes of the 1950s and 1960s — which he said was intended as “an important step in advancing human space exploration while helping to solve problems through the use of innovative technology here on Earth”.
The first of three planned flights, named Polaris Dawn, is scheduled to take off before the end of 2022, with the aim of reaching the highest Earth orbit ever flown using a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
A second flight would also use the Dragon capsule — the same spacecraft that Nasa uses to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back — and a third flight would be the first to make use of the Starship rocket that SpaceX is developing.
Mr Isaacman, 39, is named among the crew of four slated to ride into space on the first flight.
“We’re going to go farther into space than humans have gone since we last walked on the Moon,” he told US broadcaster NBC.
As well as flying further than any other mission since the last Moon landings in 1972, the Polaris Dawn crew hope to carry out the commercial space sector’s first ever spacewalk, and test a new laser-based communication system for SpaceX’s Starlink satellites.
“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,” Mr Isaacman said.
Joining Mr Isaacman on the programme’s first flight will be former US Air Force officer and Shift4 executive Scott Poteet, as well as two SpaceX employees who help run the company’s astronaut training programme, Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon.
The cost of the flights hasn't been disclosed by either Mr Isaacman or SpaceX, but is expected to run to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The programme will continue to raise money for St. Jude Children’s research hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mr Isaacman led the first all-civilian trip to space in September 2021, blasting off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The Inspiration4 mission ultimately raised more than $243 million for St. Jude hospital, including a $125 million donation from Mr Isaacman and his wife, as well as $55 million donated by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.