Today’s Tidbits: October 3, 2022

Today’s Tidbits: October 3, 2022

Here are’s tidbits for October 3, 2022: Jared Isaacman talks Polaris Dawn, Hubble, and Mars; Crew-5 hopefully on track for launch Wednesday; Starliner-1 crew members announced. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Jared Isaacman Talks Polaris Dawn, Hubble, and Mars

Jared Isaacman speaking with Christian Davenport on Washington Post Live, October 3, 2022. Screengrab.

Billionaire private astronaut Jared Isaacman shared news and views with The Washington Post’s Christian Davenport today about his upcoming Polaris Dawn flight, a possible to visit to the Hubble Space Telescope on the next Polaris mission, and his optimistic assessment of the next 10 years in human spaceflight including people walking on Mars.

Isaacman is best known in space circles for funding and commanding the first entirely private astronaut mission to orbit, Inspiration4. He paid an undisclosed price for himself and three companions to orbit Earth for three days last September on a SpaceX Crew Dragon. He also used the mission to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

He forged a strong bond with SpaceX and announced in February that he purchased three more SpaceX flights, two on Crew Dragon and one on the first crewed launch of Starship, which is still in development. He calls it the Polaris Program and the first flight is Polaris Dawn. It will include the first commercial spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA).

Originally the launch was expected this year, but he said today it is no earlier than March 1, 2023.

Training for Inspiration4 took 6 months, but for this one it’s 8-9 months. His hand-picked crew includes two SpaceX employees who are experts in that field: Sarah Gillis, director of astronaut training and Anna Menon who manages development of crew operations (and is a former NASA biomedical flight controller and married to NASA astronaut candidate Anil Menon). The fourth crew member is his friend and business associate Scott Poteet.

Polaris Dawn is pretty well set, but the big news is about the second Polaris Crew Dragon mission. Last Thursday, Isaacman, NASA and SpaceX announced they are doing a study on the feasibility of launching it to dock with the Hubble Space Telescope and raise its orbit so it can continue scientific observations for many more years. They may even try to upgrade the 32-year-old spacecraft. Hubble was serviced by five space shuttle crews between 1993 and 2009. The last servicing mission presciently outfitted it with a docking ring just in case an opportunity like this came along, but Crew Dragon would not be able to replicate what was done using the shuttle and its robotic arm.

Astronaut Andrew Fuestel works on Hubble while standing at the end of the shuttle’s remote manipulator arm, Canadarm, on the final shuttle servicing mission, STS-125. Photo credit: NASA

It is just a study at this point, but Isaacman clearly is excited. If Hubble’s orbit can be boosted “and maybe put some enhancements along the way then you’re talking about this great scientific instrument, this explorer that helps us look back into the history of the universe and now, coupled with the James Webb Space Telescope, has even more to offer science. If we can do that for 20 more years, that’s a great gift to the scientific community all around the world.”

His enthusiasm isn’t limited to Hubble. Asked “what’s realistic, what’s feasible” in the next 10 years, Isaacman painted a picture few would envision in such a short time.

Well, I think you know, you won’t be measuring the number of people in orbit at one time in the single digits or even the double digits, I think you’ll have hundreds if not thousands of people at least in low Earth orbit and probably lunar orbit within 10 years.

But I also think you have human beings walking on Mars. And I don’t know if people really appreciate I mean, you know, if you can get to the moon, which we will certainly do and Starship is definitely capable of doing it, the amount of additional velocity to get to Mars is negligible. I mean, at that point it’s about habitability for a 6- to 9-month journey and it’s about a means of getting back home. And I don’t think these are, you know, obstacles that can’t be overcome.

So my prediction? You’ve got hundreds … if not a thousand or so people that are in low Earth orbit, lunar orbit within 10 years and I think you definitely have people, you know, walking around on Mars. And that’s pretty exciting. And I think … SpaceX will be the leading organization and making it possible and Starship is probably the vehicle that’s doing it.

Crew-5 Hopefully on Track for Launch Wednesday

Crew Dragon was developed through a Public-Private Partnership between NASA and SpaceX because NASA needed to get crews to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle program was terminated. The goal for this “commercial crew” effort was for NASA to be just one of many customers buying crew transportation services and that is exactly what has happened with SpaceX as Isaacman’s Polaris Program demonstrates. (Axiom Space is another customer.)

But the NASA launches are a core business and the next Crew Dragon, Crew-5, is headed to the ISS on Wednesday. Hopefully that is. During a briefing this evening following the Launch Readiness Review, NASA’s Steve Stich and SpaceX’s Benji Reed said three items remain outstanding:

  • a Thrust Vector Control actuator on one of the nine Falcon 9 engines needs to be replaced;
  • the autonomous drone ship Just Read the Instructions (where the Falcon 9 first stage will land) has a network communications problem; and
  • a connection in the fire suppression system in Crew Dragon is leaking.

Reed said none of them are showstoppers, however.

In addition, the weather in the ascent corridor is a bit iffy. Weather at the launch site is 90 percent favorable, but it also must be good all along the path to orbit since the spacecraft can separate from the rocket at any time in an emergency and the crew would need to be picked up at sea. Brian Cizek, launch weather officer for this mission from the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, said remnants of Hurricane Ian are spinning off the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula and expected to stay there through Wednesday. The weather improves on Thursday and Friday. The launch already was delayed from October 3 to October 5 due to the hurricane.

The crew is ready. NASA’s Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA’s Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos’s Anna Kikina arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday and are just waiting for liftoff. Kikina is the first Russian to fly on a U.S. spacecraft since 2002, before the space shuttle Columbia accident. The flight comes at a time of grim terrestrial geopolitical relationships, but ISS cooperation is continuing on an even keel.

Crew-5 speaks with the media after arriving at Kennedy Space Center, October 1, 2022. L-R: Anna Kikina (Russia), Nicole Mann (U.S.), Josh Cassada (U.S.), and Koichi Wakata (Japan). Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Starliner-1 Crew Members Announced

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps. Credit: NASA

Crew Dragon is one of two crew transportation systems developed through NASA’s commercial crew program. NASA wanted to ensure redundancy and competition so contracted both with SpaceX and Boeing. Boeing’s system, Starliner, encountered a number of problems and has only gotten as far as its uncrewed test flight, OFT-2.

The first flight with a crew, the Crew Flight Test, is expected in February 2023. If all goes well the first operational flight, Starliner-1, could launch late that year.

NASA and Boeing had announced crews for CFT and Starliner-1 several years ago, but with all the delays the crew assignments have changed. Three of the four astronauts on Crew-5 (Mann, Cassada and Wakata), in fact, were originally assigned to Boeing flights.

The one astronaut who has been assigned to Starliner-1 all along is Jeannette Epps and she has been cross-training for Crew Dragon flights in case an opportunity comes up there. She is a mission specialist.

On Friday, NASA formally assigned two others: Scott Tingle and Mike Fincke. Tingle will be commander and Fincke the pilot.

NASA astronauts Scott Tingle (L) and Mike Fincke (R). Credit: NASA

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