Business

How billionaire Jared Isaacman is using fighter jets to prepare his crew for private SpaceX missions

Astronauts love fighter jets, and billionaire founder Jared Isaacman is no different.

Isaacman, who founded payments company Shift4, is deep into training with his team for the first spaceflight of the Polaris Program, announced earlier this year, in partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Isaacman’s crew of four is using fighter jets — including aircraft from his personal fleet — to prepare for flying to orbit on the first mission, called Polaris Dawn.

“We can’t go to space very often [and there] is a lot of planning that goes into a mission,” Isaacman told CNBC’s Morgan Brennan at an airfield in Bozeman, Montana.

“We want to use as much time leading up to [the launch] for training as possible,” Isaacman said, adding that “using fighter aircraft is a great analog” to spaceflight. It follows a practice that NASA follows with its own astronaut corps.

The Polaris Dawn mission crew during training on Sept. 16, 2022, from left:
John Kraus / Polaris Program

While Polaris Dawn was initially planned for the fourth quarter of 2022, Isaacman said that the mission is expected to launch “early next year.” Its the first of up to three missions, with the final one expected to be the first crewed launch of SpaceX’s Starship rocket.

Isaacman outlined the program’s three objectives: Go to the highest orbit around Earth that humans have ever flown, conduct a spacewalk outside of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and use Starlink internet satellites to communicate. He also said roughly 40 science and research payloads will fly on the mission.

Isaacman said SpaceX “is making a lot of investments” in the project, in the form of developing spacesuits and changing parts of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Polaris was jointly created with Musk “shortly after the Inspiration4 mission” last year, Isaacman said, the first private SpaceX mission that spent three days in orbit with a crew of four and raised more than $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I didn’t think I was going to space again” after Inspiration4, Isaacman said, but “seeing the direction SpaceX is going with Starship — having an opportunity to participate in a real developmental program … was pretty exciting.”

— Morgan Brennan reported on this story from Bozeman, while Michael Sheetz reported from Paris.

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