Posted 15 Feb. 2022 at 8:00 am
Barely returned, he already wants to leave. American billionaire Jared Isaacman, who returned from his first trip to space just a few months ago, and SpaceX announced on Monday a partnership for three new missions, the first of which scheduled for this year will include a spacewalk, in combination. This third mission will also be the “first flight with humans on board” for the new Starship mega-rocket, under development by Elon Musk’s company.
This announcement represents a new milestone for the private space exploration sector, as SpaceX seeks to carry out increasingly ambitious missions. It is a “mini-space program,” Jared Isaacman boldly argued at a press conference. The goal is to develop SpaceX’s “long-duration spaceflight capabilities”, with the “ultimate goal of facilitating the exploration of Mars”, said the boss of the financial company Shift4.
Mission “Polaris Dawn”
The program, called “Polaris” in reference to the North Star, is funded by both SpaceX and Jared Isaacman. But the businessman refused to give specific figures. The amount is probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The first mission, “Polaris Dawn” (dawn, in English), will have four crew members. Jared Isaacman, an experienced pilot, will be the commander. It will last up to five days and will take off from Florida “in the fourth quarter of this year” at the earliest, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket – which already carries NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
A spacewalk, unprecedented for the company, is planned “at an altitude of around 500 kilometers” and should serve as a test for new spacesuits developed by SpaceX, adapted to these extra-vehicular outings. The hatch of the Dragon capsule will be open and, in the absence of an airlock, the entire crew will be exposed to the vacuum of space. The decision of who goes away will be made during training in the coming months, Jared Isaacman said.
“Highest Earth Orbit Ever Achieved”
In September, the billionaire had already chartered the Inspiration4 space mission, the first in the world to send only amateurs into space, without a professional astronaut on board. The SpaceX ship had traveled to an altitude of 590 km, already further than the ISS.
This time, “Polaris Dawn” will fly “higher” than any SpaceX manned mission to date, and attempt to soar to “the highest Earth orbit ever achieved,” according to a statement. Jared Isaacman said the altitude would be around that of NASA’s Gemini program, whose 11th mission went up to 1,370 km. However, this distance will still be very far from the approximately 380,000 km separating the Earth and the Moon, reached by NASA astronauts during the Apollo program.
In addition to Jared Isaacman himself, the ship will carry pilot Scott Poteet, a former US Air Force veteran who worked for several of the billionaire’s companies. Two SpaceX employees will also be part of the trip. The first, Sarah Gillis, is in charge of the astronaut training program for the company, and had trained Jared Isaacman himself for Inspiration4. The second, Anna Menon, for her part worked seven years for NASA before joining SpaceX. She should overtake her husband by going first into orbit, this one having just been chosen by the American space agency to become an astronaut.
Gather Radiation Data
One of the goals of the mission is also to collect data on the radiation to which the crew will be exposed. In the future, the first manned flight of the new Starship rocket will be particularly scrutinized: it has indeed been selected by NASA to be the vehicle that will bring astronauts back to the surface of the Moon, in 2025 at the earliest.
Elon Musk has promised that Starship will reach space for the first time this year, with no one on board to begin with. But the schedule for this first test remains suspended for the moment due to a decision by the American aviation authority (FAA) on the environmental consequences of orbital flights from Texas, where SpaceX is located. The decision has been delayed from late February to late March, the FAA announced Monday.
Another billionaire, Japanese Yusaku Maezawa, has booked his flight aboard Starship. This mission, called “DearMoon”, must go around the Moon. The date of 2023 first announced should probably be exceeded.