The Polaris flights are designed to test new SpaceX-designed spacesuits, which will allow activities outside the Dragon, and to help the company’s research on suits, an area of space technology where hardware development has lagged, Isaacman said. The company has begun early work on the type of suits that will be required for longer missions on Mars and the moon.
The Polaris crew also will be the first to test laser-based communications for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation, which will be key to the company’s plans for longer missions in deep space. The crew also plan to fly at the highest altitudes for U.S. astronauts since the Apollo lunar missions, more than 400 miles (640 km), and to study radiation exposure from the Van Allen belts within Earth’s magnetic field.
Isaacman plans to use the flights, which he’s calling the Polaris Program, to again help raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as the company is formally known, is targeting its first Starship orbital test flight this year, with plans for multiple tests and satellite-deployment missions before it’s ready to carry people.
Isaacman will be joined on the missions by two SpaceX engineers — Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon — and a former Air Force test pilot, Scott “Kidd” Poteet. All four worked closely together for the Inspiration4 flight that Isaacman led in September 2021. That effort raised more than $240 million for St. Jude.
Isaacman told the Washington Post on Monday that he paid less than a widely reported $200 million price for the 2021 Crew Dragon flight, although he has declined to reveal the cost.
Isaacman said he plans to remain in his current position with Shift4 and can balance his “day job” with his space activities.