SpaceX is developing new spacesuits designed for extravehicular activity (EVA). The Polaris Program, funded by Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman, will test out the new EVA suits during the first all-commercial spacewalk planned for later this year. Isaacman purchased three SpaceX spaceflights that will help the company test new technologies aboard Falcon 9/Crew Dragon and Starship. The first mission is called ‘Polaris Dawn,’ it will launch Isaacman aboard Dragon alongside retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Scott ‘Kidd’ Poteet, SpaceX Lead Space Operations Engineer Sarah Gillis, and SpaceX Lead Space Operations Engineer Anna Menon.
Introducing the crew of Polaris Dawn:— Polaris (@PolarisProgram) February 14, 2022
Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Mission Commander
Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Mission Pilot
Sarah Gillis, Mission Specialist
Anna Menon, Mission Specialist & Medical Officer
Full biographies → https://t.co/2PEQlCtkTv pic.twitter.com/0UKT60RKL5
Isaacman will lead the Polaris Dawn crew into a higher Earth orbit than any human has been to since 1966. “On Polaris Dawn, we endeavor to achieve the highest Earth orbit ever flown,” Isaacman said. That record is currently set by NASA’s Gemini 11 astronauts who orbited the Earth at 1,373-kilometers. It is the highest altitude in our planet’s orbit that astronauts have been to and the furthest humans have been to aside from the NASA astronauts’ visit to the Moon. “This Dragon mission will take advantage of Falcon 9 and Dragon’s maximum performance, flying higher than any Dragon mission to date and endeavoring to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown,” the Program announcement says, “Orbiting through portions of the Van Allen radiation belt, Polaris Dawn will conduct research with the aim of better understanding the effects of spaceflight and space radiation on human health.”
SpaceX’s current operational spacesuits are for intravehicular activity (IVA), primarily designed to maintain astronauts in a pressurized environment inside the Crew Dragon in case of an emergency such as cabin depressurization. The slip-on, one-piece spacesuit features a communications system to communicate with mission control and other astronauts in the spacecraft, as well as hearing protection that protects astronaut’s ears during the rocket launch ascent and spacecraft reentry. It also has two internal layers, a flame-resistant outer layer and an inner cooling system. The spacesuit helmet is 3D printed with solar radiation eye protection. The boots feature heel sliders which help to secure feet to footrests in microgravity.
Crew Dragon’s control and pilot system consists of a trio of touchscreen displays. The suit gloves are flexible and compatible with touchscreen devices. SpaceX designed and made the form-fitting black and white suits with comfort in mind; It is maneuverable unlike NASA’s Space Shuttle’s bulky orange suits. Each SpaceX suit is tailored and customized for the astronaut wearing it. However, the spacesuits are only intravehicular and have not been tested outside Dragon, nor when working outside of the International Space Station (ISS). The new SpaceX EVA suits will feature more advanced technology to allow the Polaris Dawn astronauts to safely leave the spacecraft’s pressurized cabin to conduct the first-ever commercial spacewalk at an altitude of approximately 500 kilometers above the Earth.
“The Polaris Dawn crew visited the suit lab at SpaceX headquarters this week to see progress on the new SpaceX extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits, which are upgrades of the current intravehicular (IVA) suits,” program representatives announced via Twitter and shared a photo of some of the crewmembers seeing the suits. “Really was incredible to see the SpaceX team working through EVA spacesuit designs. At the moment, I was mostly thinking about what it means for SpaceX when they are constructing EVA suits and 🚀vehicles that can land on the Moon and Mars.. they are getting closer,” said Isaacman. “The SpaceX team’s passion is nothing less than astonishing. Was def[initely] evident when we walked into suit lab. Rest assured, SpaceX will imagine, create, test, modify…and deliver,” Poteet added in a follow-up Tweet.
Really was incredible to see the SpaceX team working through EVA spacesuit designs. At the moment, I was mostly thinking about what it means for SpaceX when they are constructing EVA suits and 🚀vehicles that can land on the Moon and Mars.. they are getting closer.— Jared Isaacman (@rookisaacman) February 16, 2022
The SpaceX team’s passion is nothing less than astonishing. Was def evident when we walked into suit lab. Rest assured, SpaceX will imagine, create, test, modify…and deliver.— Kidd Poteet (@KiddPoteet) February 16, 2022
“Building a base on the Moon and a city on Mars will require thousands of spacesuits; the development of this suit and the execution of the EVA will be important steps toward a scalable design for spacesuits on future long-duration missions,” said Polaris Program representatives. After the Polaris Dawn crew tests SpaceX suits it is probable that the company will offer the spacesuit to NASA. Last year, SpaceX founder Elon Musk offered to develop the Artemis lunar program spacesuits if the agency needed it. Currently, NASA's spacesuit development is expensive and behind schedule because over 27 companies are supplying components for the agency’s next-generation spacesuits. NASA has spent around $420 million and the suits might not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest. SpaceX is independently (and rapidly) developing spacesuits that will be tested before 2022 ends. NASA selected SpaceX to develop a lunar-optimized Starship Human Landing System (HLS) that will land Artemis astronauts on the moon, maybe we will see astronauts sporting SpaceX's upgraded spacesuits during the historic lunar return.
Featured Image Source: Polaris Program