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SpaceX preps Polaris Dawn mission featuring first commercial spacewalk

This year should see the launch of SpaceX’s Polaris Dawn mission, a follow-up to the successful Inspiration4 voyage that sent four private citizens to low-Earth orbit for three days in 2021.

Polaris Dawn, which is set to launch no earlier than March, will put four private citizens — including Jared Isaacman who led the Inspiration4 mission — into space for five days aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon ship.

Aiming for an orbit around 435 miles (700 km) above Earth, the crew will be much further out than the International Space Station, which orbits at about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth, and considerably higher than the 364 miles (585 km) reached by the Inspiration4 crew.

The Polaris Dawn mission is also set to perform the first-ever commercial spacewalk, using SpaceX-designed spacesuits.

“Building a base on the moon and a city on Mars will require thousands of spacesuits,” the mission team says on its website. “The development of this suit and the execution of the [spacewalk] will be important steps toward a scalable design for spacesuits on future long-duration missions.”

In another first, the Polaris Dawn crew will test Starlink laser-based communications in space, an exercise that should provide useful data for future space communications systems for trips to the moon, Mars, and anywhere else space exploration takes us in the coming decades.

During the mission, the Polaris Dawn crew will also carry out scientific research aimed at advancing both human health on Earth as well as our understanding of human health during future long-duration spaceflights.

Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, will be joined by Anna Menon, who works at SpaceX managing the development of crew operations and working in mission control as both a mission director and crew communicator. Menon this week shared some images captured during a recent decompression sickness risk study involving the crew.

We recently lived for days in NASA’s 20ft pressure chamber to complete a decompression sickness (DCS) risk study. We replicated our mission’s pressure and oxygen profiles & did a “spacewalk” to validate our DCS mathematical models. Big thanks to the amazing @nasa & @SpaceX teams.

— Anna Menon (@annawmenon) January 9, 2023

Crewmember Sarah Gillis also works at SpaceX and is tasked with overseeing the company’s astronaut training program. Joining these three will be Scott Poteet, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who served 20 years in various roles that included piloting an F-16 fighter jet.

Polaris Dawn will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A concrete date for the mission has yet to be announced.

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Trevor Mogg
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