Contact and Capture — Crew-1 Arrives at ISS

Contact and Capture — Crew-1 Arrives at ISS

The first operational flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, Crew-1, successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) at 11:01 pm ET. The hatch between Crew Dragon and ISS is scheduled to open in about two hours at 1:10 am ET after conducting a series of leak checks. The four arriving astronauts will be greeted by the three ISS crew members already aboard. [UPDATE: The hatch was opened at 1:02 am ET.]

Crew-1 launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 7:27 pm ET last night and has been steadily making its way to ISS for the past 27.5 hours. How long it takes to get from KSC to ISS depends on their relative positions and orbital mechanics. If the launch had been one day earlier, it would have taken only 8.5 hours.

Among their activities today, the three veteran astronauts — NASA’s Michael Hopkins and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Soichi Noguchi — bestowed the coveted gold astronaut pin on first-time flyer Victor Glover. Astronauts gets silver pins when selected into the corps, but a gold one once they have flown into space.

“Contact and capture,” also called soft dock or soft capture, was at 11:01 pm ET.  “Hard” dock, with the hooks fully closed, was about 12 minutes later.

Meeting them will be NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. They were launched on Soyuz MS-17 on October 14 and docked the same day. Both the Crew-1 and Soyuz MS-17 crews are on 6-month overlapping missions. The ISS just celebrated 20 years of being continuously occupied  by crews rotating on 4-6 month missions.

Soyuz MS-17 crew aboard ISS (L-R): Kate Rubins (NASA), Sergey Ryzhikov (Roscosmos), Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (Roscosmos). Photo credit: NASA

This is the first time seven people will be on ISS for a long duration. A greater number have been on board for short periods of time when the space shuttle was docked or occasionally when three Soyuz spacecraft were docked, but the usual crew complement is six. There are only six sleep stations so Crew-1 commander Michael Hopkins will use the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which they named Resilience, as his living quarters.

NASA is eager to have more crew members on board to increase time available for scientific research, one of the primary reasons for building the ISS in the first place. ISS is heavily maintenance intensive and every crew member must spend 2 hours per day exercising to maintain their fitness for return to Earth in addition to all their other daily activities, leaving little time for science experiments that require crew interaction.

This is the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Developed through a Public-Private Partnership with NASA, SpaceX owns the spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket, not NASA.  But the “commercial crew” system had to be certified by NASA as meeting all of its safety requirements, which required both an uncrewed (Demo-1) and crewed (Demo-2) test flight. They were successfully completed in 2019 and earlier this year. NASA certified the system on Tuesday as part of its approval for this launch.

Boeing is developing its own commercial crew system, Starliner, which is still in testing.

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