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Polaris Dawn Crew Prepares For Historic Mission This Summer

The Polaris Program is preparing to launch its first crew on a historic first for commercial spaceflight this summer.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Thu Feb 23 2023Written by Zac Aubert

The Polaris Program is preparing to launch its first crew on a historic first for commercial spaceflight this summer.

A year ago Jared Isaacman announced the creation of the Polaris Program with the goal to build up experience in human spaceflight in cooperation with SpaceX to help the company meet its goals of sending humans to the moon and Mars. The first mission of the Polaris Program is called Polaris Dawn and will see the crew go to a higher altitude than any previous Crew Dragon missions, conduct the first commercial spacewalk, the first spacewalk from a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, test communications through the Starlink constellation and more over its 5 days mission.

Polaris Dawn was originally set to launch NET Q4 of 2022 but due to delays required for crew training, space suit development and spacecraft availability, launch is now targeting Summer 2023 with Isaacman saying at SpaceCom conference on February 23rd “We’re now just months away from flying.”

Over the past year, Jared Isaacman, Kidd Poteet, Sarah Gillis, and Anna Menon have been training extensively for their upcoming mission, which will take them into orbit for up to five days. The crew, who developed a strong synergy during the Inspiration4 mission in 2021, have undergone a rigorous training program to prepare them for several groundbreaking objectives.

The crew's participation in fighter jet training allowed them to learn crew resource management, teamwork, and checklist procedures applied in high-consequence environments. These skills will be crucial in the spaceflight context, where the crew must react swiftly to a wide range of scenarios that could arise during their mission.

Scuba diving and participation in a decompression sickness study have also provided the crew with insights into conducting the spacewalk. They have learned about clear and concise conveying of information between crew members and teams back on Earth, which is crucial during a spacewalk.

Overall, the comprehensive training program has fostered camaraderie and team cohesion among the crew, essential elements of any spaceflight mission, especially one as ambitious as Polaris Dawn. The crew's understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses will allow them to operate effectively, efficiently, and safely on Earth and ultimately in space.

Historic Spacewalk

During the Polaris Dawn mission 2 of the crew will exit the SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule to perform a spacewalk, also known as an extravehicular activity (EVA), which will be the first of its kind from a Crew Dragon spacecraft or any commercial mission.

Due to the lack of an airlock on the Crew Dragon, the entire cabin will be depressurized, requiring all four crew members to wear space suits. Two crew members will exit the spacecraft while the other two support them from inside. The estimated duration of the spacewalk is two hours, including the time it takes to vent and re-pressurize the cabin air.

The new suits have been developed by SpaceX, but their design has not been disclosed, except for their critical role in SpaceX's goal of making humanity multiplanetary. SpaceX aims to make spacewalks more accessible and affordable by building suits that are cost-effective and mass-producible. The suits will be based on the pressure suit used for Crew Dragon missions but with additional upgrades to protect against micrometeroids, provide insulation, and redundancy.

Historic Orbit

“We’re endeavoring to fly to the highest Earth orbit ever flown” - Jared Isaacman

Polaris Dawn mission will temporarily raise the spacecraft's orbit to about 1,400 kilometers, the highest altitude for a crewed spacecraft since the last Apollo lunar mission in 1996 when Gemini 11 orbited the Earth with an apogee of about 1,375 kilometers. This will provide data for experiments related to the radiation environment.

The crew's training program has been diverse and challenging. They underwent mission simulations and academic work at SpaceX headquarters, mountain climbing in Ecuador, scuba diving off of Catalina Island, medical skills training, fighter jet flights, centrifuge spins, time in an altitude chamber, a zero-gravity flight, a decompression sickness study at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and the U.S. Air Force Academy’s AM-490 skydiving course in Colorado.

The training program has not only familiarized the crew with the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft but also provided them with valuable experience in making rapid, high-stakes decisions in high-consequence environments. The crew has also developed essential skills such as mental resilience, endurance, and mental toughness necessary for the space environment.

Future Missions

Polaris Dawn is just the first mission of the Polaris Program. 2 other mission haves been confirmed, another mission on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and a mission on SpaceX's Starship. Little details are know about these future missons.

The Polaris Program is also working with NASA to conduct a study to look at potentially using Crew Dragon to reboot the Hubble Space Telescope.