SpaceX and NASA will launch the Crew-5 mission, their next manned mission to the International Space Station, no later than September 29, according to a NASA statement. (Opens in a new tab) Released on Thursday (July 21). The delay will delay the mission behind the next launch of astronauts aboard a Russian Soyuz craft.
“The launch at the end of September will allow SpaceX to complete hardware processing and mission teams will continue to review the launch date based on the spacecraft’s visit schedule to the space station,” NASA officials wrote.
pictures: Stunning launch images of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission
The crew includes 5 NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Casada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
The flight will be a critical milestone for NASA, which has long argued in favor of a “crew exchange” where Russian cosmonauts fly on commercially-purchased NASA missions and NASA astronauts continue to ride Russian Soyuz capsules.
After lengthy negotiations, NASA announced last week that Crew-5 would be SpaceX’s first flight carrying an astronaut. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have also agreed that cosmonaut Andrei Vidyaev will fly aboard Crew-6, currently targeting a spring launch. Meanwhile, NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Loral O’Hara will fly Soyuz missions in the coming months.
Crew-5’s new schedule means vehicles will exchange launch hatches as well as passengers.
The Crew-5 mission had previously intended to reach the orbiting laboratory earlier in September. Under the new schedule, instead of replacing Crew-5 for astronauts currently orbiting Crew-4 before the next Soyuz launch, the Soyuz crews will move first. The next Soyuz launch and return of the current Soyuz crew is scheduled for September 16-30, according to NASA.
In addition to updating the schedule, NASA and SpaceX have also provided details about the rocket and capsule that will fly the Crew-5.
The expedition will use the Dragon Endurance capsule, which also carried Crew 3 for the November 2021 launch; The capsule returned to Earth from that flight in early May. Although SpaceX routinely refurbs its hardware, NASA has indicated that this flight will mark a new milestone; This will be the first commercial flight to carry four Draco Veteran capsule steer engines, with no new so-called Draco front fender engines. According to the statement, the teams are also swapping out the capsule’s heat shield, parachutes, and capsule panels.
Endurance will be launched on top of the all-new Falcon 9 booster, but the expedition personnel still have some issues to address in that end as well. The booster sustained some damage during the flight from SpaceX’s production center in California to a test facility in Texas, according to the statement. Accordingly, the company is replacing both the interphase connecting the first and second phases and some tools.
Both SpaceX and NASA are confident in the booster, which has undergone a battery of tests to make sure there is no damage beyond the portion between stages; Additional testing will also occur after all replacements have been completed, according to the statement.