First Operational Crew Dragon Launch Slips to Halloween

 In Space

The Crew-1 mission will include mission specialist Shannon Walker, vehicle pilot Victor Glover, commander Mike Hopkins and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi. Credit: NASA

NASA announced Monday that the launch of the first oper­a­tional crew rota­tion mis­sion to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space­craft is set for the predawn hours of Halloween, eight days later than pre­vi­ous­ly planned.

The Crew Dragon space­ship is sched­uled to blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at around 2:40 a.m. EDT (0640 GMT) on Oct. 31, the space agency said.

If the mis­sion takes off as sched­uled, the crew cap­sule will dock with the International Space Station around a day later, either late on Oct. 31 or early Nov. 1.

Commander Michael Hopkins will lead the four-person crew. He will be joined by pilot Victor Glover and mis­sion spe­cial­ists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi to kick off a six-month expe­di­tion on the space sta­tion.

The mis­sion, known as Crew‑1, was pre­vi­ous­ly sched­uled for launch Oct. 23. NASA said the delay to Oct. 31 will “decon­flict” the Crew 1 launch and dock­ing with the sched­uled arrival Oct. 14 of a three-person Soyuz crew at the space sta­tion, and the depar­ture and land­ing of an out­go­ing sta­tion crew Oct. 21.

“This addi­tion­al time is needed to ensure clo­sure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the sta­tion, ahead of the Crew‑1 arrival,” NASA said.

The delay will also give engi­neers more time to con­duct addi­tion­al test­ing to iso­late a small air leak inside the space station’s pres­sur­ized cabin. Greg Dorth, NASA’s man­ag­er of the space sta­tion exter­nal inte­gra­tion office, said Monday that the leak is “very, very small.”

“The leak is not a safety of crew nor a safety of sta­tion issue,” Dorth said Monday. It’s a very, very small leak. It’s an impact to our con­sum­ables, but we have planned for that. We can address the leak as we con­tin­ue the inves­ti­ga­tion.”

The space station’s three res­i­dents spent three days iso­lat­ed in the Russian seg­ment of the com­plex in August, and the crew spent anoth­er week­end in the Russian sec­tion of the sta­tion last week­end in a bid to help ground teams iso­late the loca­tion of the leak.

“As of this morn­ing, there was no clear indi­ca­tion of where the leak is,” Dorth said Monday. “The teams are still look­ing at the data and eval­u­at­ing it, and we will con­tin­ue to search for this very, very small leak.”

NASA said SpaceX “con­tin­ues to make progress on prepa­ra­tions of the Crew Dragon space­craft and Falcon 9 rocket, and the adjust­ed date allows the teams addi­tion­al time for com­plet­ing open work ahead of launch.”

Hopkins and his crew­mates fin­ished train­ing on Crew Dragon sys­tems last week at SpaceX head­quar­ters in Hawthorne, California. “We’ve got our license to fly!” Glover tweet­ed.

The Crew‑1 mis­sion fol­lows a successful test flight known as Demo-2, in which NASA astro­nauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to the space sta­tion on a two-month mis­sion to wring out the human-rated cap­sule before offi­cials clear it for reg­u­lar mis­sions.

Hurley and Behnken launched May 30 and returned to Earth on Aug. 2.

Beginning with Crew‑1, SpaceX plans to launch mul­ti­ple Crew Dragon mis­sions per year with NASA astro­nauts, inter­na­tion­al crew mem­bers, and fare-paying pri­vate pas­sen­gers. NASA is in the final stages of for­mal­ly cer­ti­fy­ing the Crew Dragon for oper­a­tional mis­sions.

Noguchi also tweet­ed last week that the Crew‑1 astro­nauts had com­plet­ed their final under­wa­ter space­walk train­ing at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronauts train in a giant pool to mimic the weight­less con­di­tions in orbit.

NASA plans to host a series of press con­fer­ences Tuesday to pre­view the Crew‑1 mis­sion.

The four-person crew set for launch Oct. 31 will remain aboard the space sta­tion until around April 2021, when anoth­er Crew Dragon space­craft is set to dock with a fresh four-person team of astro­nauts. Hopkins and his crew­mates will then depart in their Crew Dragon cap­sule to head for a para­chute-assist­ed splash­down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space­craft is one of two new U.S. space­ships designed to ferry astro­nauts to and from the space sta­tion. Developed under a multi­bil­lion-dollar con­tract with NASA, the com­mer­cial Crew Dragon cap­sule is also con­fig­ured to carry pri­vate astro­nauts into low Earth orbit, beginning with a 10-day mission next October that is expect­ed to include actor Tom Cruise.

Boeing’s Starliner crew cap­sule is designed the same types of mis­sions as the Crew Dragon. But the Starliner pro­gram has run into delays, an an unpilot­ed test flight of a Starliner space­craft in December 2019 pre­ma­ture­ly ended after a soft­ware error pre­vent­ed it from dock­ing with the space sta­tion.

NASA and Boeing have agreed to launch a second Starliner test flight with­out astro­nauts to ensure the soft­ware issues are resolved before the first Starliner demon­stra­tion mis­sion with crew mem­bers.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are seen on pad 39A on May 27 ahead of the launch of the Demo-2 mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The second unpilot­ed Starliner test flight is cur­rent­ly sched­uled for launch in January aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. If it goes well, Boeing could be ready to fly anoth­er Starliner to the space sta­tion with Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson and NASA astro­nauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann no ear­li­er than June 2021.

Then NASA could approve Boeing’s Starliner to begin reg­u­lar trips to and from the space sta­tion. NASA’s con­tracts with Boeing and SpaceX each include pro­vi­sions for six crew rota­tion mis­sions to the space sta­tion through 2024.

While the new U.S. vehi­cles are coming online, Russian Soyuz mis­sions will con­tin­ue trans­port­ing space sta­tion crews in the coming years. Russian tech­ni­cians at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are ready­ing the Soyuz MS-17 space­craft for launch at 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT) Oct. 14 with Russian cos­mo­nauts Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA astro­naut Kate Rubins for their own six-month stint on the space sta­tion.

Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins will dock with the space sta­tion around three hours after liftoff, join­ing sta­tion com­man­der Chris Cassidy and his Russian crew­mates Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner have been on the space sta­tion since April. They are due to depart the sta­tion and return to Earth in their Soyuz MS-16 cap­sule Oct. 21.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Spaceflight Now source|articles

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