SpaceX and NASA are officially “go” to continue with launching four astronauts to the International Space Station one week from now, with the fulfillment of a basic flight status review on Thursday (April 15).
Managers from NASA and Elon Musk’s space organization Thursday cleared the Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule for a first light takeoff with a group of four to the International Space Station. They will go through a half year at the orbiting lab, supplanting another SpaceX group that is near getting back home.
This will be the first team flight using a recycled Falcon and Dragon. Both were intended for reuse.
The Crew-2 mission is planned to take off next Thursday (April 22), which additionally turns out to be Earth Day. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch from historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the second flight of this specific Crew Dragon; a similar capsule, named “Endeavour,” carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the space station a year ago for the Demo-2 test flight.
Inside the Crew Dragon will be four Expedition 65 crewmembers, who will go through around a half year in space: NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
“The flight readiness review was very successful; we only had one exception,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s head of human spaceflight, said in a news conference Thursday. “It needs to be cleared up in the next few days because it’s got to get resolved before the static fire [test],” which is at present scheduled for Saturday (April 17), she added. (Static fires, in which rocket engines are ignited while the vehicle remains anchored to the ground, are a typical pre-flight checkout.)
Bill Gerstenmaier, VP of build and flight reliability at SpaceX (and previous NASA human spaceflight chief), said in the very news conference that the teams “discovered there was a potential loading error, where we may actually be loading a little extra oxygen in our [Falcon 9] tanks.” SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets utilize liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene for propellant.
Gerstenmaier added that other Falcon 9 missions have been flying effectively in this equivalent configuration, however, SpaceX recently found the issue while testing the rocket on the ground in Texas. The organization identified somewhat higher levels of liquid oxygen than anticipated, yet they have not yet sorted out the reason for this discrepancy.
“We reviewed that with the NASA team today, but we didn’t have enough time to really go over all the data and look at all the consequences of what that could mean,” he said. “We’re going to take the extra step” to review the issue and decide whether it could represent a danger to the astronauts (or other future Falcon 9 launches).
Three of the astronauts are back for their second space station mission: NASA’s Shane Kimbrough, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide. NASA astronaut Megan McArthur was part of the last Hubble Space Telescope repair team in 2009.
For almost a decade, the only route to the space station for astronauts was on Russian rockets. NASA went to private companies for taxi service after the space shuttles retired in 2011. SpaceX has been transporting cargo to the space station since 2012, utilizing a similar sort of rocket and comparable capsules, and recycling those parts too.
If the liquid oxygen issue is resolved as expected and all else works out as expected, Crew-2 will take off at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) on April 22 and dock with the International Space Station a little more than 23 hours after the fact, at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT) on April 23. A last launch readiness review is scheduled for April 20.
A backup launch window is accessible on April 23. From that point onward, Crew-2 could launch on either April 26 or April 27, Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, included the news conference.