The Polaris program’s inaugural flight, Polaris Dawn, has been postponed to April 2024. The mission, initially planned for late 2022, has been delayed by about a year and a half. Jared Isaacman, the billionaire behind the project, recently announced the rescheduling on social media.
Polaris Dawn’s Key Goals and Challenges: The mission aims to conduct the first-ever commercial spacewalk. However, it faces significant technical hurdles. These include developing a new extravehicular activity (EVA) suit and modifying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which currently lacks an airlock. Isaacman highlighted the difference between regular pressure suits and EVA suits designed for the vacuum of space. Crew Dragon also requires software and hardware adjustments for cabin depressurization and repressurization.
Other Mission Objectives: Polaris Dawn also aims to test intersatellite laser communications with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation and assess electronics for higher radiation environments. The mission will reach altitudes of up to 1,400 kilometers, approaching the Van Allen Belt’s inner edge.
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Background and Future Plans
Jared Isaacman’s Space Ventures: Isaacman, who previously commanded the Inspiration4 private astronaut mission, announced the Polaris program in February 2022. Polaris Dawn is the first of three planned private missions using SpaceX spacecraft. Like Inspiration4, it will also support fundraising for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Polaris Dawn Crew: The mission will be commanded by Isaacman, with pilot Scott Poteet, and senior SpaceX ground controllers Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon.
Technical Challenges and SpaceX’s Role
SpaceX’s Ongoing Contributions: SpaceX engineers are tackling significant challenges, including suit modifications for spacewalks, life support redundancy, and ensuring spacecraft resilience against micrometeorites and orbital debris. The mission also involves intricate laser communication experiments and addressing radiation-related concerns for avionics.
The Larger Polaris Program: Beyond Polaris Dawn, Isaacman plans to use SpaceX’s Starship for future missions and has expressed interest in boosting the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope. However, Starship faces its own technical challenges, with delays expected in its major contracts.
Wider Space Exploration Context
NASA’s Artemis Program Delays: The delay in the Polaris program parallels setbacks in NASA’s Artemis program. The Artemis 3 moon landing, initially planned for 2025, is now expected no earlier than 2027. Meanwhile, Artemis 2 is scheduled to launch in late 2024, using NASA’s Orion spacecraft for a lunar orbit mission.
While Isaacman has emphasized the developmental nature of the Polaris program, acknowledging expected schedule shifts, the space community eagerly awaits further updates and progress in these ambitious private space exploration endeavors.