SpaceX’s first Polaris Dawn mission to launch after July 30

The first commercial spacewalk mission looks to be back on schedule with Polaris Dawn saying that it will launch no earlier than July 31, 2024. The Dragon spacecraft is slated to carry the four-person crew farther from Earth than any mission in over 50 years.

Commercial space flights mean a lot more than private firms filling government space contracts. Though most private missions today carry cargo and crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS), the future will see more and more private visits to orbit that have nothing to do with national governments.

On September 15, 2021, the first completely private mission in history, a privately owned and operated rocket putting a privately owned and operated spacecraft into orbit with private astronauts aboard on a private charter, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The craft was a SpaceX Crew Dragon and the launch vehicle a Falcon 9 rocket that boosted the Inspiration4 mission to an altitude of 357 miles (575 km).

On that flight, the passengers remained inside the capsule, but for the follow-up Polaris Dawn mission, also chartered from SpaceX by Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4, the goals are more ambitious.

For one thing, it will attempt to reach an initial orbital altitude of 870 miles (1,400 km), which is higher than any crewed space flight since the 1972 Apollo 17 Moon mission and also surpasses the highest crewed Earth orbit mission set by Gemini 11 in 1966.

One hazard is that this is high enough to penetrate the inner band of the radioactive Van Allen Belts that encircle the Earth. This isn’t good for the crew consisting of Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, Mission Pilot Scott Poteet, Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis, and Mission Specialist and Medical Officer Anna Menon, but their initial orbit will be highly elliptical with a lower altitude of 120 miles (190 km), so their exposure will be minimal.

The purpose of this radiological game of chicken is to conduct 38 science experiments to study the effects of spaceflight and space radiation on human health. When these are completed, the altitude for the remainder of the five days in orbit will be reduced to 430 miles (700 km).

It is then that the first private spacewalk will be attempted. The Dragon has been specially modified to depressurize and allow the forward hatch to be opened. At least two of the space suits are an upgraded extravehicular activity (EVA) version of a standard SpaceX intravehicular (IVA) suit. This has been altered to allow for more mobility and boasts new thermal management textiles and materials borrowed from Falcon’s interstage and Dragon’s trunk. In addition, there’s a helmet camera and a new heads-up display (HUD).

No further details have been released regarding the launch date.

Source: Polaris Dawn

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