Polaris Dawn is getting closer and closer to being launch ready

The first mission of the Polaris program, Polaris Dawn, will include the first spacewalk on a commercial mission. Credit: Polaris Program

By Seth Kurkowski,
Published by Space Explored, 14 April 2024

Things are slowly falling into place for the Polaris Program‘s first mission, Polaris Dawn. The mission is nearing milestones that might finally give it a launch date that will actually hold.

Polaris Dawn Dragon and spacesuit finishing testing

Polaris Dawn, a private mission being paid for by Shift4 CEO Jared Issacman, who also paid for and flew on Inspiration4 in 2021. The goal of the mission is to fly higher than any human spaceflight since Apollo, perform the first private spacewalk, and conduct numerous science experiments in orbit.

Like Inspiration4, Polaris is partnering with SpaceX to complete this. Currently, SpaceX is the only company capable of this sort of feat. To do so, the company has modified its Dragon spacecraft to support spacewalk operations and develop an upgraded spacesuit to be used in the vacuum of space.

That spacecraft was sent to vacuum chamber testing earlier this month. Teams will recreate expected conditions in space by lowering and raising the vehicle’s pressures to ensure Dragon performs as expected both during and after the first commercial spacewalk,” SpaceX stated on social media.

This will be able to close out the vast majority of concerns with bringing a vacuum into the Dragon’s main cabin, although no test is as good as doing it in the real world. Polaris Dawn is set to launch in early summer, so just like the early NASA astronauts that took part in the Gemini Program, the crew of Polaris Dawn will be pushing what Dragon was designed to do.

The crew will be safe from being inside a vacuum while in Dragon as they will be wearing an upgraded suit that according to Issacman, finished development in March. While the current flight suit used by SpaceX Dragon passengers would work for keeping them safe in a vacuum, it is not designed to be used outside the spacecraft. Really, it wouldn’t be much use outside of one of the Dragon’s four seats as the hose used to connect it to the life-support systems doesn’t look to be that long.

SpaceNews reported in February that the new spacesuit was the main factor to why Polaris Dawn has been delayed for so long. When it was announced in early February 2022, the first launch date was sometime in Q4 2022.

Over two years later, we’re still waiting on a solid launch date to be shared. Although I feel that we are getting really close.

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What is the purpose of the Polaris Program?

As mentioned earlier, the Polaris Program was announced in early 2022 and is being paid for by Jared Issacman of Shift4 and Inspiration4. You can pretty much think of it as a privately funded space program.

With current space programs, especially NASA, no longer taking huge risks like it did back in 1960s, pushing what is possible, Polaris seems to be that for SpaceX. Polaris Dawn as we talked about already, will be step one, pushing the limits of what SpaceX can do right now with Dragon.

What comes next is a little up in the air but at least two missions are in the works. First will be a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. After being in space for over three decades, parts that have a limited lifespan are beginning to fail. While SpaceX and NASA are currently evaluating potential plans, if a crewed mission would be selected, Issacman would want Polaris to be used for it.

Another mission of the Polaris Program will be to launch on the first crewed flight of Starship. Personally I’m not sure what crazy person looked at those early test flights and said “I want to fly on that,” but I guess Issacman saw something I didn’t.

While a crewed Starship flight is still very far off in SpaceX’s future, the company’s president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said they would like at least 100 launches before that, it will happen eventually.

Elon Musk has a lot of ambition plans for SpaceX’s future, including building a base on the Moon and a self sustaining colony on Mars. Polaris is an extension of that spirit and getting SpaceX ready to do what, once again, many think is impossible.

See: Original Article