LAS VEGAS – A private astronaut mission backed by a billionaire aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon has slipped from late this year to March 2023 and could be delayed further, in part due to issues beyond its control.
The Polaris programme, an initiative announced in February by Shift4 founder Jared Isaacman, originally planned for the first Crew Dragon mission, Polaris Dawn, to fly in the last quarter of this year. The four-person crew, including Isaacman, will perform the first spacewalk from the Crew Dragon spacecraft and fly to an altitude higher than previous manned orbital spaceflights.
As recently as July, this mission was still scheduled to fly this year, with a launch expected in December. By September, though, the launch had quietly slipped back to no later than March 2023, the date Polaris confirmed on October 24 in an announcement of the biomedical trials it plans to make on the five-day flight.
In an October 24 statement to SpaceNews, Polaris spokeswoman Sarah Grover said the program reassessed the December launch date into September based on mission readiness, software and training, as well as the public statement of SpaceX missions. This moved the program no later than March 1.
This date is also subject to change. “In addition to the risks of a development-driven schedule, moving into winter leads us into a busy period and our history may be directly affected by the International Space Station missions, which carry uncertainties of their own,” she said. While Polaris Dawn will not go to the International Space Station, the SpaceX crew and other cargo missions will be flying from the same platform at Launch Complex 39A. This includes NASA’s Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station, tentatively scheduled for as early as February 2023.
Another factor is the use of the LC-39A to launch the Falcon Heavy. “There is also uncertainty on the part of Falcon as there are potential Falcon Heavy launches with priority government ratings in the mix,” she said. These are likely the USF-67 and USSF-52 missions of the US Space Force, currently scheduled for early 2023 after long delays.
She said the next assessment point for Polaris Dawn will be in November. “In the meantime, we will continue to burn development stuff and gain certainty in our statement.”
This includes training for Isaacman and other crew members: Scott Poteet, Sarah Gillis, and Anna Menon. This training includes preparations for a spacewalk, something that has not been done on a Crew Dragon or any other commercial mission yet, although the program has not disclosed details about it.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Isaacman said of the training October 3 online in The Washington Post, where eight to nine months versus six months are planned for Inspiration 4: “We have to get it right, because if we get it wrong, that schedule will be reset dramatically.”
A second flight for the Polaris program, also aboard the Crew Dragon, could go to the Hubble Space Telescope for re-enhancement or maintenance, pending the outcome of a study that NASA announced it will conduct with SpaceX on Sept. 29. The third mission will be the SpaceX spacecraft’s first flight crew. Neither Polaris nor SpaceX have announced the dates for those expected missions.
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