The Polaris Dawn mission will likely be delayed to 2024

WASHINGTON — The billionaire who backs a series of private astronaut missions with SpaceX says the first of those flights will likely be delayed some time into 2024.

In a recent interview with CNBC Manifest Space PodcastPreparations are continuing for Polaris Dawn, Jared Isaacs said, the first of three Polaris program missions announced for early 2022. This mission will carry Isaacs and three others aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft that will spend several days in low Earth orbit.

“We’re making a lot of progress. We’re still hopeful towards the end of the year, but I suspect it will probably slide into the beginning of next year,” he said in the short interview. “That should be expected. It is a test and development program.

When Isaacman and SpaceX announced Polaris in February 2022, they scheduled the Polaris Dawn mission for the fourth quarter of 2022. However, by last October, the launch had been delayed to at least March 2023, which the program attributed to the vehicle’s readiness and capacity. Training as well as schedule other Crew Dragon missions.

Speaking at a conference in February, Isaacman said he expects Polaris Dawn to be released this summer. “We are now only months away from flying,” he said at the time. The program has not provided any official updates on the mission schedule since then latest update On the program website published in May.

A delay beyond the end of this year will likely push Polaris Dawn later than the start of 2024. Axiom Space plans a third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station in January 2024, followed about a month later by a NASA Crew-8 mission. mission to the station, both using the Crew Dragon spacecraft. While Polaris Dawn will not be going to the International Space Station, the availability of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and other resources needed for manned missions may delay Polaris Dawn until later in the year.

Isaacman, in the podcast interview, suggested that the delay is related to the development of a new spacesuit required for a spacewalk, the first of its kind for a private astronaut mission, planned for Polaris Dawn.

“We had a little more free time this summer than we had anticipated,” he said, which he attributed to the timing of space suit development and training. This effort “doesn’t always coincide, so we’ve had more free time with family and work this summer.”

He said this new suit, which is described as the first new space suit to be developed in the United States in four decades, is essential for future human activities on the moon and Mars. “We’re going to need spacesuits that don’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars to do that. We’re very excited that the suit we’re testing, which could one day be developed very well, could be worn by people walking on the Moon or Mars.

However, it is not clear when the SpaceX-developed spacesuit will be used next. NASA awarded contracts in June 2022 to Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace to develop spacesuits to replace those currently in use on the International Space Station as well as for future Artemis lunar landing missions. While SpaceX’s Starship will be used for at least the Artemis 3 and 4 moon landings, those missions will use Axiom or Collins spacesuits.

Polaris Dawn is the first of three missions in a program that will culminate in the first crewed launch of a Starship. The final mission is “still a long way off,” Isaacman said, noting that SpaceX still has a lot of progress to make on the Starship before people can be transported on it. “Obviously it will need more launches and that design will have to evolve to the point where it is safe for human spaceflight.”

Since the announcement of the Polaris program, one option for the second mission has emerged: a Crew Dragon flight to restart the Hubble Space Telescope. Isaacman participated in a NASA press conference last September announcing an unfunded Space Act agreement between NASA and SpaceX to study such a mission.

NASA did not disclose the results of those efforts, but confirmed in May that the study was complete and that the agency is “evaluating the results internally and working to determine next steps.” The agency also received eight responses to a separate request for information from companies that are developing satellite servicing technologies that can restart Hubble.

The ball was in NASA’s court on the Crew Dragon mission to Hubble, Isaacman said on the podcast. “Obviously there are a lot of interesting things that are being discussed right now at NASA, but hopefully they’ll come up with this proposal and maybe we’ll have a very interesting Polaris 2 to follow,” he said.

At an open meeting of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate on July 27, Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division, said NASA is still evaluating options to raise Hubble’s orbit. “Part of this review means looking at the capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope itself and how it will operate, and making sure that the telescope itself remains safe during operation,” he said. He did not say when that review would be completed.

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