How Jared Isaacman makes use of fighter jets in coaching

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

Isaacman, who founded payments company Shift4, and his team are training intensively for the Polaris program’s first spaceflight, announced earlier this year in partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Isaacman’s crew of four uses fighter jets – including planes from his personal fleet – to prepare for flight into orbit on the first mission, called Polaris Dawn.

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

The Polaris Dawn mission crew during training on September 16, 2022, from left:

John Kraus / Polaris program

“We want to use as much time as possible in advance [the launch] to train as best as possible,” Isaacman said, adding that “the use of fighter jets is a great analogue” of spaceflight. It follows a practice used by NASA with its own corps of astronauts.

While Polaris Dawn was originally scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2022, Isaacman said the mission launch is expected to happen “early next year.” It’s the first of up to three missions, with the latest expected to be the first manned launch of SpaceX’s Starship rocket.

Isaacman outlined the three goals of the program: enter the highest Earth orbit ever flown by humans, perform a spacewalk outside of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and use Starlink internet satellites for communications. He also said around 40 science and research payloads will fly on the mission.

Polaris' commander aborts the Dawn mission to undertake the first-ever commercial spacewalk

Isaacman said SpaceX is “investing heavily” in the project, in the form of developing space suits and replacing parts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Polaris was co-created with Musk last year “just after the Inspiration4 mission,” Isaacman said, the first private SpaceX mission to spend three days in orbit with a crew of four and raised more than $200 million for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital contributed.

“I didn’t think I’d go back to space after Inspiration4,” Isaacman said, but “to see where SpaceX is going with Starship — to have the opportunity to be part of a real development program … was pretty exciting.”

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

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