SpaceX training begins this month for first commercial spacewalk mission – Spaceflight Now

Artist’s concept of a crew member performing a spacewalk outside a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX / Polaris program

The four-person crew who will fly on the all-private Polaris Dawn mission – which will include the first commercial spacewalk and the debut of SpaceX’s extravehicular spacesuit – will begin training this month for their journey on a Dragon spacecraft at an altitude more than three times higher than the International Space Station.

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire businessman and pilot commanding the Polaris Dawn mission, said in a recent interview that the crew of four will begin training after SpaceX completes a long period of crew rotations to and from the space station.

SpaceX launched a Dragon flight with four commercial astronauts to the space station on April 8. This mission, carried out for the company Axiom Space of Houston, returned to Earth on April 25. A NASA crew mission launched on a SpaceX Dragon capsule on April 27 to begin a four-and-a-half-month expedition to the station, followed by the return of an outgoing crew on another Dragon spacecraft on May 6. .

The four-week campaign has been the busiest part of operations for SpaceX’s human spaceflight program. Less than two years have passed since the company’s first crewed mission for NASA.

Once those missions are complete, Isaacman tweeted Sunday that the Polaris Dawn crew will begin training later this month for their pioneering flight, which aims to reach farther from Earth than humans have flown since. the last Apollo lunar mission in 1972.

In an interview last month, Isaacman revealed new details about the Polaris Dawn mission, the first of three flights he’s booked with SpaceX, culminating in a mission aboard the company’s massive next-generation Starship rocket. . Isaacman and SpaceX announced the three-flight Polaris program in February.

Details on the second and third Polaris missions — on a Dragon spacecraft and on SpaceX’s spacecraft, respectively — have not been released.

The Polaris Dawn mission is expected to launch in November at the earliest.

Jared Isaacman, Polaris Dawn mission commander. Credit: Polaris Program / John Kraus

Isaacman will be joined on the Polaris Dawn mission by Scott “Kidd” Poteet, a veteran fighter pilot and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Two SpaceX employees, Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon, will also fly into orbit on Polaris Dawn.

Gillis and Menon have supported recent Axiom and NASA crew missions as part of SpaceX’s ground crew. With that work now complete, all four Polaris Dawn crew members are available to begin their “lockdown” training program, Isaacman said.

SpaceX is developing a new spacesuit designed to protect crew members during spacewalks. Isaacman’s crew will be the first to test the new suit during an excursion outside the Dragon spacecraft.

The suit’s design and appearance were not disclosed by SpaceX. The suit is an upgrade to the custom-fitted pressure garments worn by astronauts during launch and re-entry inside the Dragon spacecraft. These suits would pressure to keep the crew alive in an emergency.

But Isaacman said there were changes to the materials of the suit to better protect astronauts from micrometeoroids and orbital debris — tiny space rocks or fragments of space junk that could strike a crew member while flying. he is outside the spacecraft during a spacewalk.

The new suit will look more like SpaceX’s cabin pressure suits than NASA’s older, bulky space suits used for excursions outside the International Space Station, Isaacman said.

“You’re adding a lot of redundancy into the suit that doesn’t exist today, because it’s more like the last line of defense,” Isaacman said, referring to the differences between SpaceX’s current suit and the new suit. extravehicular space. “You have a new visor, new joints, then mobility, joints all over for increased mobility and dexterity in the fingers and such. I think visually it will be more along the lines of what it currently looks like, but very much like a new costume.

The Polaris Dawn mission patch. Credit: Polaris Program / John Kraus

Isaacman said the crew will wear the new suit during launch and reentry. There is not enough room inside the capsule to carry the suit and change into space once in space. Two of Polaris Dawn’s crew members will actually be heading outside for the spacewalk – also known as EVA, or extravehicular activity.

SpaceX’s new spacesuit will be the first new design capable of supporting a spacewalk since NASA’s current generation of suits debuted in the 1980s, when the space shuttle program began.

NASA is in the final stages of selecting a company to develop and supply spacesuits for the agency’s Artemis missions to the moon. The SpaceX suit could be a candidate for the contract.

Like NASA spacewalk training, preparations for the Polaris Dawn mission will include underwater training exercises, allowing the crew to get a feel for how the suit behaves without the pull of gravity, Isaacman told Spaceflight Now last month.

SpaceX is also adding suspension platforms to the company’s training center in Hawthorne, California.

“We can work inside the Dragon Simulator and kind of practice the exit, where the mobility aids are, etc.,” Isaacman said. “So it’s going to be a combination of Hawthorne and real underwater training.”

Isaacman, 39, founded Shift4 Payments, an online payment app, and has a net worth of $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.

In addition to the spacewalk, the Polaris Dawn crew will test a laser communications system to connect to SpaceX’s Starlink internet network. The mission will also collect data on the radiation environment in orbit from the Dragon spacecraft, which will reach the lower segments of the Van Allen radiation belts.

Anna Menon, Scott Poteet, Jared Isaacman and Sarah Gilles pose with prototype Starship vehicles in South Texas. All four will fly into orbit on the Polaris Dawn mission. Credit: Polaris Program / John Kraus

Isaacman commissioned the Inspiration4 mission last September, the first fully private crewed mission to low Earth orbit. Isaacman and his three private crewmates spent three days in orbit on SpaceX’s Dragon Resilience spacecraft, performing experiments and supporting fundraising efforts for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Like Inspiration 4, the Polaris Dawn mission will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Polaris Dawn will spend up to five days in orbit, Isaacman said.

Isaacman will likely fly the Dragon Resilience spacecraft again, one of four crew capsules in SpaceX’s fleet.

“There’s a very high probability that it’s resilience,” he said.

SpaceX will remove the viewing window from the cupola added to the nose of the Dragon Resilience spacecraft for the Inspiration4 mission.

“You’re going to go back to a docking mechanism, because it’s going to hatch for exit and entry during EVA,” Isaacman said.

The Polaris Dawn mission will likely target a peak altitude of around 870 miles (1,400 kilometers), higher than NASA’s Gemini 11 mission with crew Commander Pete Conrad and pilot Dick Gordon in 1966, which established the altitude record for an astronaut flight in Earth orbit at 853 miles (1,372 kilometers), according to NASA.

“There’s very little reason to go much further than 1,400 kilometers,” Isaacman said. “You’re just increasing the radiation (exposure) dramatically, and you probably won’t learn much more. We’re already expecting to get a lot of really good data after just a few spins in a 1,400 kilometer orbit. I don’t expect to go much further than that.”

“We’re talking about adding a lot of cameras because it’s going to be a very elliptical orbit,” he said. “If you just assume it’s 1,400 (kilometres), it’ll be like 190 by 1,400. If you can get good pictures of that and just compress it, you’re going to see the Earth shrink and increase in size. I think it will be pretty cool.

The Dragon capsule will fire Draco thrusters to lower its altitude before the spacewalk.

The spacecraft does not have an airlock, so the spacewalk will require the entire capsule to be depressurized into space. Crew members will float out of the hatch and remain tethered to the spacecraft at an altitude of about 300 miles, or 500 kilometers, according to the Polaris program website.

“It’s still going to be a pretty high EVA compared to anything that’s happened lately,” Isaacman said.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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