When asked on a press call Monday, Isaacman said the Gemini missions of the 20th century, which set altitude records at the time, are evidence of just how high the first Polaris mission was. The Gemini missions have reached an altitude of about 850 miles – or three times higher than where the International Space Station orbits. Isaac refused to share a certain altitude for the flight.
Isaacman, who gained international attention when he bought the first SpaceX cruise called Inspiration 4, said the first Dragon mission would be followed by the second Dragon mission shortly thereafter. These two missions will pave the way for the first-ever manned mission on SpaceX’s upcoming Starship rocket, which Elon Musk hopes will one day take people to Mars.
“We’re going to go further into space than humans have gone since we last walked on the moon,” he said on the Today programme.
It’s not clear if all of this will go according to plan, nor has SpaceX said if it will need to complete additional testing before Isaacman can make his journey into deep space. SpaceX also did not address whether there were any updates the Crew Dragon would need to safely complete the mission. So far, the spacecraft has only carried astronauts on flights to low Earth orbit, or the area of space immediately surrounding Earth. Mission Inspiration 4 marks the Crew Dragon’s tallest flight to date, at nearly 360 miles, and Monday’s announcement indicated that the first Polaris mission will fly at least twice that limit.
“We know the space is expensive,” Isakman said when asked about the costs of the Polaris program during a media call, adding that it was already “fully funded.”
“Costs will come down just as with any other groundbreaking technology,” he said. “This is a contribution from myself and SpaceX towards the important goals we want to achieve with the Polaris program.”
Described as a fundraising drive from St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Mission Inspiration 4 has generated a total of $243 million for the organization. Isaacman donated about $100 million, Musk gave another $50 million and the rest was raised through public donations. Polaris missions are also expected to support the same cause.
On the first Polaris mission, Isaacman will be joined by veteran Air Force fighter pilot Scott Poteet and two SpaceX operations engineers – Sarah Gillies and Anna Menon, who will serve as the onboard medical officer. Isaacman will be the only crew member with previous spaceflight experience.
Poteet is a former Vice President of Shift 4 who spent 20 years in the Air Force. Potet also served as flight director on the ground in support of Ilham 4. He and Isaacman are also frequent airline partners.
Gillis and Menon may be the first SpaceX employees to travel to space.
Details about the spacewalk the Polaris crew plans to perform on the first flight are light, but a press release states that they will use a “SpaceX-designed Extravehicular Spacesuit (EVA), which has been upgraded from the current in-vehicle (IVA) suit.” The IVA suit refers to the black and white compressed spacesuits worn by NASA astronauts and the Inspiration 4 crew aboard the Dragon during launch and return.
According to its website, the space march will take place when the Crew Dragon flies 300 miles above Earth, or roughly the same height as the International Space Station.
Many technical details are still unknown. The Crew Dragon, for example, does not have an airlock, which would allow one person to exit the spacecraft in the EVA while the remaining crew members remain safely confined within their airtight, pressurized cabin. Without the airlock locked, the entire cabin would become hypo-pressurized – as happened during spacewalks by NASA astronauts during Gemini missions.
“For this mission, the suit that we will design will be one that we will launch [in] Then use similarly with EVA,” Gillis said.
“We’re certainly going to do it safely,” Menon added.
Also on Polaris’ first mission, the crew will test the use of Starlink – SpaceX’s satellite internet business – for communications in space. So far, Starlink has only been used to send internet connectivity to customers on the ground, but Polaris’ press release notes that the system could be used to support communications during orbital flights.
The flight schedule of the Isaacman spacecraft is not entirely clear. During a presentation about the Starship in Texas last week, Musk said that while he hopes the vehicle — which has so far conducted short, sub-orbital “jump tests” — will conduct its first orbital flight test this year, without a crew. However, that may depend on whether federal regulators give SpaceX approval to launch the Starship from southern Texas, where the company has already built an orbital launch pad and the vast majority of the Starship’s resources are located.
It could mean that Isaacman jumps to the first billionaire who bought the Starship mission – Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa. Maezawa has paid SpaceX an undisclosed amount of money to secure a seat for himself and a group of artists on the spacecraft’s flight around the moon, hoping to take off as soon as 2023. Maezawa is still in the process of deciding who to take with him.
Musk also said during the presentation that he hoped the Starship would cost less than $10 million per flight within a few years, which, if possible, would be much cheaper than any other rocket on the market.
The spacecraft is expected to be far more powerful than any rocket ever built by mankind. Musk said he would boast about the poor thrust of the Saturn 5 rockets that drove moon landings in the past century.
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