Update for March 5: SpaceX's Crew-2 astronaut launch for NASA is now scheduled to launch no earlier than April 22.
SpaceX's second fully-crewed astronaut flight, Crew-2, is prepared for launch, mission team members said Monday (March 1) during a news briefing.
Crew-2, which is set to launch April 20, follows the company's Demo-2 launch in May 2020, the first crewed test flight for SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, and Crew-1 launch in November 2020, which saw the company's first fully crewed mission to space. Like Crew-2, these missions took place as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
"Everybody is on track and ready," SpaceX director of crew mission management Benji Reed said during the briefing.
Related: NASA announces astronauts to launch on SpaceX's Crew-2 Dragon in 2021
The mission will launch NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, who will act as spacecraft pilot and commander, respectively, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, both of whom will serve as mission specialists. The quartet will spend a little more than six months on to the International Space Station.
"This flight exemplifies the [international] partnership," Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said today during the briefing about the inclusion of JAXA and ESA astronauts in Crew-2. It exemplifies, she continued, "how we are continuing to advance human spaceflight with what we do every day," and how missions like this "lead us to not only doing great things on the space station, but doing even more in our space exploration programs going forward."
More: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 crewed test flight in photos
The Crew Dragon vehicle used for Crew-2 will deliver not just the four astronauts, but over 440 lbs. (200 kilograms) of pressurized cargo to the space station, supporting science and technology development on the orbiting lab, space station program manager Joel Montalbano said today.
"Last year, we celebrated 20 years of continuous human presence on board the International Space Station," Montalbano said, adding that including the commercial space sector has allowed them to bring more people to the International Space Station. "It's an exciting time," he said.
"It's a sacred honor to make sure that we're going to carry this crew safely to the space station," Reed said of the upcoming launch.
Passing the torch
To prepare for Crew-2's arrival at the space station, the four astronauts making up Crew-1, who are still living in orbit, will don their spacesuits and relocate their Crew Dragon capsule to another port attached to the station, allowing the incoming spacecraft to dock where they have been "parked." This will also give the crew an opportunity to "get into their suits and check the suits out and make sure those suits are functioning and working fine," program manager for Commercial Crew Steve Stich told Space.com.
Now, while this is all happening in space, mission teams will be prepared here on the ground as well, just in case anything were to not go as planned. For the maneuver, "SpaceX will have their recovery ship ready to go for the Atlantic sites off the coast of Florida," Stich added. "It's the first time we've done this in the U.S. I would say the SpaceX and NASA teams are taking this operation very seriously and [are] working through checking all the procedures … and just making sure we're ready to go do this. It's something that we'll do quite often, but it's the first time we'll have done it with the Dragon vehicle."
Once the capsule has been moved to another port, making room for the Crew-2 craft, and the Crew-2 mission launches and docks and the astronauts board the space station, a handover will take place between the astronaut crews that will take place over five to seven days, Montalbano told Space.com.
While the astronauts flying to the station with Crew-2 are no strangers to the station, this handover gives the crew finishing their mission the opportunity to go over emergency procedures for possible events like fire or depressurization with the new crew and help them acclimate to life on the space laboratory, walking them through everyday essential activities, odd challenges that present themselves and necessary maintenance.
While the teams behind Crew-2 are ready for the April 20 launch, it's possible that the launch may be delayed a few days, Stich said during the conference. SpaceX is one of two companies
The next launch for Boeing's crew capsule, OFT-2, the second uncrewed test launch with the company's crew capsule Starliner, which will test the vehicle after its first uncrewed flight failed to reach the space station due to software issues. OFT-2 is currently targeting April 2, but will likely be delayed further, due partly to unforeseen challenges that came with unusually harsh winter weather and resulting power outages across Texas.
"We had some unfortunate weather here in the Houston area, where we lost about a week of time and some critical software testing," Stich said. "The vehicle's coming together nicely .. we're about two weeks down from where we'd like to be and we're in the process of figuring out the next step on OFT-2."
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