The launch of SpaceX’s next astronaut mission will take an additional day.
Crew-6, a four-person mission to the International Space Station (ISS), was scheduled to launch early Sunday morning (Feb. 26) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
However, NASA and SpaceX decided to postpone the liftoff by 24 hours following a lengthy flight readiness review (FRR) on Tuesday (Feb. 21). The current strategy calls for the Dragon capsule Endeavour belonging to Crew-6 to be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Monday, February 27 at 1:45 a.m. EST (06:45 GMT). When the time comes, you can watch it live here on Space.com.
SpaceX and NASA representatives stated during a Tuesday evening post-FRR briefing that the additional day will allow launch teams to resolve a few minor issues with Endeavour and the Falcon 9.
Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, stated that members of the team want to conduct additional research on the thermal performance of the “pod panels” that cover the exterior of Endeavour. Additionally, they want to investigate the helium bottles that are housed in the Falcon 9’s composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs).
During the briefing on Tuesday, Stich mentioned the COPV work, stating, “We have noticed that there was blending done in some areas on the liner, and we have some testing and analysis to go make sure that those are good for flight.”
A Falcon 9 that recently carried a significant number of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites into orbit also contained a potential flaw, according to the teams. Stich stated that although the Starlink mission was successful, one of that rocket’s engine bays “had a little bit of evidence of some combustion.” The Crew-6 team is looking at that other rocket right now to make sure that the upcoming astronaut launch won’t be affected by the combustion issue.
Stich said that Crew-6 will use a new rocket, while the Falcon 9 first stage that launched the Starlink batch was flying for the 12th time. Nonetheless, prior to crew-carrying missions, SpaceX and NASA routinely examine data from all Falcon 9 flights to inform their analyses.
When this upcoming work is finished, NASA and SpaceX anticipate that Endeavour and its rocket ride will be authorized for liftoff.
“I don’t think those things will be a concern for the crew flight, but we don’t take things for granted; we want to make sure they’re really ready,” Bill Gerstenmaier, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said in the post-FRR briefing.
Crew-6 will send NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, Sultan Al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev to the International Space Station for about six months. Al-Neyadi will become the first Arab astronaut to fly a mission to the orbiting laboratory with a long duration.
Crew-6, as its name suggests, will be NASA’s sixth operational astronaut mission flown by SpaceX to the ISS. In addition to those six missions, Elon Musk’s company has also carried out two additional crewed missions to the space lab: a test flight for NASA called Demo-2 in 2020 and a private flight called Ax-1 that was carried out in April 2022 by the Houston company Axiom Space.
Three of these previous ISS missions, Crew-2, Demo-2, and Ax-1, which launched in April 2021, have been flown by Endeavour.
The capsule Endurance, which launched in October on the Crew-5 mission, is currently docked at the ISS. After welcoming their Crew-6 counterparts to the space station, the four Crew-5 spaceflighters—NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, cosmonaut Anna Kikina, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata—are anticipated to return to Earth approximately five days later.
Cassada, Mann, Wakata, and Kikina are currently sharing the orbiting laboratory with three other space travelers: cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who traveled to the International Space Station in September aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
On that very same Soyuz, Prokopyev, Petelin, and Rubio were supposed to return to Earth the following month; however, they will now remain in the air until around the middle of September. On December 14, their Soyuz burst into flames and quickly lost all of its coolant to space. On Thursday, February 23, Russia intends to launch a replacement Soyuz for them.
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