Polaris Program Crew will test SpaceX Starlink laser-based communications in Space, One day the Internet network could be used on the Moon & Mars

Polaris Program Crew will test SpaceX Starlink laser-based communications in Space, One day the Internet network could be used on the Moon & Mars

Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman made history as commander of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian spaceflight to orbit Earth. He is funding a new spaceflight program called ‘Polaris,’ to test new SpaceX technologies aboard Crew Dragon missions that will lead to Starship’s first crewed spaceflight.

SpaceX is working to build the world’s most advanced satellite internet infrastructure that could one day be used on the Moon and Mars. The Starlink constellation will consist of at least 12,000 internet-beaming satellites operating around Earth. To date, the company's Falcon 9 rocket has already launched approximately 2,200 satellites to Low Earth Orbit. The newest Starlink broadband satellites are equipped with advanced technology, including inter-satellite communication laser links that enable the satellites to beam (transfer) internet data to one another at a much faster rate. The feature enables higher speed internet connection with low-latency because light travels faster in the vacuum of space than through fiber-optic cables. The laser links (also known as 'space lasers') will enable SpaceX to serve users where the satellites cannot directly access a terrestrial ground station antenna —for example, over the ocean and in remote regions where terrestrial internet infrastructures are nonexistent.

The Polaris Program will test the Starlink network during three planned crewed spaceflights, two aboard Crew Dragon and one aboard Starship. The first mission is called 'Polaris Dawn', which will launch Commander Isaacman aboard Crew Dragon, alongside SpaceX Lead Space Operations Engineer Anna Menon, SpaceX Lead Space Operations Engineer Sarah Gillis, and veteran United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Scott ‘Kidd’ Poteet [crew photo shown below]. They will be the pioneers that will conduct extensive research to ensure Starlink is a reliable communication system in outer space and also ensure that SpaceX’s new spacesuit is safe for spacewalks, among other things. “The Polaris Dawn crew will be the first crew to test Starlink laser-based communications in space, providing valuable data for future space communications systems necessary for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” the Polaris Program states. The Polaris Dawn crew will launch into a max altitude of approximately 500 kilometers above the Earth where they will attempt the first-ever commercial spacewalk with upgraded spacesuits designed by SpaceX made for extravehicular activity (EVA), upgraded from the current intravehicular (IVA) suit. "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. 

Testing the Starlink communications system will also be important for future space explorers. SpaceX plans to install Starlink terminals on its Starship spacecraft. The President of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell said last year that besides connecting rural and remote communities globally to Starlink internet, SpaceX envisions using the Starlink network to maintain communication with future Mars settlers. "Once we take people to Mars, they are going to need a capability to communicate," she told TIME reporters in 2021, "In fact, I think it will be even more critical to have a constellation like Starlink around Mars. And then, of course, you need to connect the two planets as well." During the 2020 Mars Society Convention, SpaceX founder Chief Engineer Elon Musk said that a new version of the Starlink infrastructure could be developed to beam internet to the Martian surface. "...You just need a big laser coming from Earth," he said, "Probably want it to be in orbit so it doesn't get atmospheric diffraction or attenuation. You want to go from a big laser from Earth orbit to Mars orbit and then you're going to need some relay stations for when Mars is on the other side of the Sun ... you can't just shoot a laser through the sun," Musk explained. The company aims to return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface by 2025 and conduct the first crewed mission to Mars soon after, having a reliable communication system for these missions will be vital. 

Image - left to right: SpaceX Lead Space Operations Engineer Anna Menon, Veteran United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Scott ‘Kidd’ Poteet, Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman, and SpaceX Lead Space Operations Engineer Sarah Gillis. / Source: Polaris Program photographer John Kraus. 

Featured Image Source: Polaris Program

About the Author

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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