Featured 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.
Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman made history as commander of SpaceX's first all-civilian Inspiration4 mission. He is funding a new spaceflight program called ‘Polaris,’ to test new technologies aboard Dragon missions that will lead to Starship’s first crewed spaceflight. Isaacman lived an incredible adventure when he launched atop Falcon 9 aboard Crew Dragon Resilience and orbited around the Earth for three days in September 2021. The Inspiration4 mission crewmembers used their newfound fame to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and raised over $200 million through their inspiring spaceflight.
Today, February 14, Isaacman announced that he purchased three more SpaceX flights that will also be dedicated to fundraise the children’s hospital and serve to test new spaceflight technologies. “The Polaris Program is a first-of-its-kind effort to rapidly advance human spaceflight capabilities, while continuing to raise funds and awareness for important causes here on Earth,” the program’s website states. The first two Polaris Program missions will be launched by Falcon 9 and deploy Dragon into a higher altitude than any human has traveled to since NASA’s Apollo lunar missions. Mission 1 is called “Polaris Dawn”, it will launch Isaacman 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. Polaris Dawn is targeted for no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022. Gillis and Menon are great assets to fly into space because they both lead human spaceflight programs and operations at SpaceX – there is no better way to improve the spacecraft and astronaut training procedures than to experience spaceflight yourself. Their expertise and firsthand spaceflight experience will be useful and help the company enhance its human spaceflight operations.
EXCLUSIVE: @SpaceX is returning with a trio of new missions designed to bring people farther into space than they have been in decades. Starship will carry astronauts and cargo to the moon and, at some point in the future, Mars. @tomcostellonbc reports. https://t.co/dMkYCVESPa pic.twitter.com/Z2VFaTI4uL— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 14, 2022
“On Polaris Dawn, we endeavor to achieve the highest Earth orbit ever flown in addition to conducting the world’s first commercial spacewalk and testing of Starlink laser-based communication,” said Isaacman in a press release. Starlink is SpaceX’s broadband division that is building a constellation of Internet-beaming satellites to connect rural and remote regions around the globe. SpaceX has plans to use Starlink to communicate with spacecraft during future missions. “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 spaceflights,” said Isaacman.
The Polaris Dawn mission will be important for SpaceX's human spaceflight objectives because the crew will test new SpaceX spacesuits designed for extravehicular activity (EVA). They plan to conduct a spacewalk at around 500-kilometers above the Earth, the data they collect during the EVA will help SpaceX improve the spacesuit development for future long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars aboard Starship.
The crew will attempt the first commercial spacewalk with SpaceX-designed extravehicular activity suits, upgraded from the current intravehicular suit. pic.twitter.com/CYD7tIjjOT— Polaris (@PolarisProgram) February 14, 2022
The third Polaris Program mission will be the first crewed Starship spaceflight. The crew that will pioneer the historic flight was not revealed today. Maybe the Polaris Dawn crewmembers will also launch aboard Starship one day. According to SpaceX, Starship will be capable of launching up to 100 passengers in private cabins. Even though the first Starship mission might not risk launching a hundred passengers, it is probable that the company will launch at least a dozen crewmembers. Starship is still under development at the Starbase facility located at Boca Chica Beach, Texas. Engineers are working on preparing the launch vehicle to conduct the first orbital flight test this year. The Polaris Dawn crewmembers visited the Starbase facility last week to be present during SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s 2022 Starship Update presentation. They had the opportunity to fly aboard fighter jets above a fully-stacked Starship/Super Heavy rocket, pictured below.
During the Polaris press conference, Isaacman did not reveal how much he is spending on the three spaceflights. He told reporters that that the Polaris program is a joint investment between himself and SpaceX. “We know space is expensive,” he said. “At this point, costs will come down, just as they have from any other, you know, groundbreaking technology.”
All Featured Images Source: Polaris Program / John Kraus