December launch planned for Polaris Dawn

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WASHINGTON — The privately funded Polaris Program is planning its first crewed launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in December, a mission that will include the first spacewalk on a private mission.

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who organized the Inspiration4 private astronaut mission that spent three days in orbit in September 2021, announced the Polaris Program in February, billing it as a series of missions to develop experience in human spaceflight. The first mission, Polaris Dawn, will fly Isaacman and three others on a five-day Crew Dragon mission.

In an appearance at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 29, Isaacman said he expected the mission to fly late this year. “We’re looking at the end of the year right now so, so likely December.”

The mission has three major goals. One is to fly Crew Dragon in an orbit with an apogee of 1,400 kilometers, the highest for a crewed mission in Earth orbit. Another is to test communications with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

The third, and perhaps most ambitious, is a spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), that will be both the first from a Crew Dragon spacecraft and the first for a private mission. “There’s a ton of new development that’s happening to support that,” said Anna Menon of SpaceX, another member of the Polaris Dawn crew.

That involves both upgrades to the life support systems on the Crew Dragon spacecraft, because the entire cabin will be depressurized for the spacewalk and repressurized afterwards, as well as development of a spacesuit. “The suit development that is occurring for this mission is really going to help us learn, and we’ll be able to build on this as we go to the moon and ultimately go to Mars,” she said.

A big focus on training for the months leading up to the launch will be on that spacewalk. “The back half of the year is pretty loaded to the EVA ops,” Isaacman said.

“This is a development program, and as part of that, this is an entirely new training program that we’re developing,” said Sarah Gillis, another SpaceX employee who is flying on the mission. “I think we’re going to learn a lot along the way.”

Menon said there are more than 35 experiments planned for the five-day mission, many focused on the elevated radiation environment of the higher orbit. “That’s something that we’re going to really need to understand for missions to the moon and to Mars.”

Polaris Dawn is the first of three missions that will culminate with the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Starship. “To get there, we’re going to try to learn an awful lot along the way,” Isaacman said.