NASA Sets October Date for Crew-1

NASA Sets October Date for Crew-1

NASA announced today that the targeted launch date for the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is October 23, 2020. The “no earlier than” date is predicated on Crew Dragon completing the certification process following the successful Demo-2 flight that ended on August 2.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted the news.

NASA and Space X earlier suggested the flight might take place in September, but October 23 apparently was chosen based on operational factors aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a very busy place.

The current crew — NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — is scheduled to return to Earth in October after their replacements arrive on Soyuz MS-17. That crew, NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russia’s Sergey Rzyhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, is expected to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakshtan on October 14. Cassidy and his crewmates would return to Earth after a one-week handover.

Almost immediately, Crew-1 would launch.

The ISS has been permanently occupied by long-duration “expedition” crews rotating on 4-6 month missions, occasionally visited by others on short-duration trips, for almost 20 years. The size of the expedition crews has been limited until now by the number of Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked there.  Soyuzes can remain on orbit for up to six months and serve as lifeboats to return the crews to Earth if there is an emergency. Each Soyuz can accommodate three people. If one is docked, only three people can be aboard; six if there are two.

That will change now with Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner. Like Soyuz, those spacecraft can remain on orbit for at least six months, but will routinely transport four crew members for NASA.

The International Space Station as viewed from the SpaceX Demo-2 spacecraft while on final approach, May 31, 2020. Credit: NASA

The additional crew member is very important because ISS is maintenance-intensive. It takes much of the available time of three crew members on the U.S. segment and two or three on the Russian segment just to keep it working.  That leaves little time for scientific research, the main rationale for the ISS.

Joel Montelbano, NASA’s ISS Program Manager, said earlier this month the fourth crew member will double the weekly number of hours of research from 35 to 70 since that person’s work time can be devoted to science.

The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 European countries operating through the European Space Agency. The “U.S. segment” actually is comprised of modules and other systems from the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada. Astronauts from all those countries participate in the expedition crews.

In fact, Crew-1 is composed of three NASA astronauts — Mike Hopkins, Vic Glover and Shannon Walker — and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) — Soichi Noguchi.

Crew of NASA/SpaceX Crew-1 mission, L-R: Shannon Walker (NASA), Vic Glover (NASA), Mike Hopkins (NASA), Soichi Noguchi (JAXA). Credit: NASA

If all goes according to plan, that means the ISS will be staffed by seven expedition crew members from three continents on November 2, 2020 when it reaches the milestone of 20 years of permanent occupancy: four from the United States, two from Russia (although Kud-Sverchkov was born in Kazakhstan — at Baikonur, in fact), and one from Japan.

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