The crew of the privately funded Polaris program’s first mission are reaching new heights to prepare for their record-breaking SpaceX flight later this year.
A mission profile, estimated launch schedule, and crew update were recently shared on the Polaris website, a dual effort between SpaceX and billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman. Isaacman funded and commanded SpaceX’s first all-civilian crewed mission, inspiration4which raised more than $240 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in September 2021. Isaacman announced the Polaris program a few months later.
Polaris aims to continue raising funds for St. Jude, as well as pushing the boundaries of human spaceflight through three separate crewed launches, all funded by Isaacman. In his first mission, polar dawn, Isaacman, the commander, will pilot a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft alongside Sarah Gillis, Anna Menon and Scott Poteet. (Gillis and Menon both work at SpaceX.) Polaris’ second launch will also employ a Dragon, but the third aims to be the first crewed mission for SpaceX’s next generation. Spatialship spatialship.
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The announcement of the Polaris program unveiling in February this year stated that the Polaris Dawn mission would feature the first commercial spacewalk and rise to an orbital altitude higher than any human has reached since the finale. Apollo mission in 1972 – far higher than all crewed Dragon launches have achieved to date. Now, more details have been released about the Polaris Dawn mission and how the crew members are training there.
Polaris Dawn is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of this year at the earliest. The Dragon capsule carrying Isaacman and his three crewmates will lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Pushing the rocket to the limit of its capabilities, the Falcon 9 will fly the spacecraft into an initial elliptical orbit of 745 miles by 118 miles (1,200 by 190 kilometers). The Dragon will then raise its apogee (highest point above Earth) to 870 miles (1,400 km) using its Draco thrusters. The spacecraft will stay in this elliptical orbit for a while, then lower its apogee to 435 miles (700 km). For context, the international space station orbits at an average altitude of about 250 miles (400 km).
Because Polaris Dawn will present the first spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), of a private astronaut, SpaceX had to develop its own commercial EVA suites. A Dragon EVA requires the spacecraft’s main cabin to be depressurized in the same way as NASA’s Gemini capsules were early manned spaceflight. This means that everyone on board will be wearing suits designed to be exposed to the vacuum of space.
The recent Polaris program update (opens in a new tab)which was released on June 9, says teams “across multiple fronts” worked to design and test SpaceX’s new EVA suits, while specific research and experiments to include in the Polaris Dawn mission are continually reviewed and selected.
Over the past three months, SpaceX and Polaris teams have also been helping crew members prepare for the mission. For example, the group underwent indoor dive training in California to practice the types of non-verbal communication and crew support techniques needed during EVAs. Once comfortable in the pool, the crew was able to perform dives off Catalina Island in California to experience various physiological responses associated with changes in pressure.
Recently, the team completed extensive high-altitude treks in Ecuador, including an ascent of the country’s second-highest peak, Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi peaks at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), and to reach its peak, the crew of Polaris Dawn had to cross glaciers and acclimatize to drastic elevation changes.
The June 9 update indicates that the crew will undergo simulations with the Dragon spacecraft in the coming months and will also participate in vomit-comet style centrifugation exercises, as well as work on reconnaissance and the treatment of signs of hypoxia.
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