Elon Musk’s space company will launch the Crew 3 mission for NASA on Wednesday evening, the fifth crewed SpaceX mission in the past 18 months.
Crew-3 is scheduled to take off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:03 p.m. ET. The astronauts are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET.
“Everything looks like we’re in a good place to fly,” William Gerstenmaier, Vice President of SpaceX, told reporters during a pre-launch briefing.
The launch marks the SpaceX crew’s third launch so far for NASA and the first from the latest addition to their Crew Dragon capsules, dubbed Endurance by Crew 3 astronauts. The Crew 3 mission will bring the number of astronauts SpaceX launched to 18.
NASA and SpaceX have postponed the Crew-3 launch a number of times since its previous destination, October 30, due to inclement weather in the Atlantic and a minor medical issue with one of the four crew members. The ocean must be calm in the direction of launch of the rocket if an abort during flight causes the capsule to splash down after take-off. NASA declined to specify more about the medical problem, citing astronaut privacy, but said it was not an emergency and had nothing to do with the Covid-19 virus.
The astronauts from NASA and ESA
The Crew 3 mission will carry four astronauts, three American and one German: NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer.
Chari, the spacecraft commander, was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2017. This will be his first space flight. He was also selected by NASA as one of their astronauts eligible for future Artemis lunar missions later this decade. Chari is a U.S. Air Force Colonel with more than 2,500 flight hours.
Marshburn, the Crew-3 pilot, was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2004. This is Marshburn’s third space flight. He’s also flown on the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz probe. Marshburn was previously a flight surgeon at NASA.
Barron flies as the Crew 3 Mission Specialist selected by NASA in 2017. The start is Barron’s first space flight. She graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2010 and has a Masters in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Cambridge.
Maurer, the newest international astronaut to fly with SpaceX, joined the European astronaut corps in 2015. This will also be his first space flight.
The spaceship: Crew Dragon capsule Endurance
SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft and refined its Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which provided the company with $ 3.1 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.
Commercial Crew is a competitive program, and NASA has also awarded Boeing $ 4.8 billion in contracts to develop its Starliner spacecraft. However, the Boeing capsule is in development due to an unmanned flight test in December 2019 that presented significant challenges.
Crew-3 marks the third of these six missions for SpaceX, with NASA now benefiting from the company’s investments in spacecraft development.
NASA emphasizes that SpaceX offers the agency a cost-saving option in addition to the ability to send astronauts into space. The agency expects to pay $ 55 million per astronaut who flies on Crew Dragon, as opposed to $ 86 million per astronaut who flies a Russian spaceship. NASA estimated last year that the agency saved between $ 20 billion and $ 30 billion in development costs by competing between two private companies for contracts.
The company completed a full rehearsal for Crew-3 in October, during which the quartet of astronauts practiced getting dressed and riding to the launch pad in the two Tesla Model Xs that SpaceX uses for crew transport.
Endurance is a new Crew Dragon capsule that is debuting for this mission. Previously, the capsules Resilience and Endeavor have flown astronauts, and SpaceX expects to add a fourth Crew Dragon early next year.
Crew Dragon is an evolved version of the company’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft. Just as Cargo Dragon was the first privately developed spaceship to transport supplies to the ISS, Crew Dragon is the first privately developed spaceship to transport people to the station.
While SpaceX has previously flown a maximum of four people on each mission, Crew Dragon is designed to carry up to seven passengers into space at the same time.
SpaceX recently had incidents with the toilet on board its spaceship Crew Dragon when a hose from Resilience came loose during the Inspiration4 mission – although the crew on board did not notice the problem during the spaceflight – and the Endeavor capsule that the crew brought back . 2 Mission earlier this week had a similar problem. The company says it updated the design of Endurance’s waste management system prior to the introduction of Crew-3 to address the issue.
Crew Dragon’s parachutes were also a cause for concern as one of the four main parachutes deployed more slowly than the others during Crew-2’s return. Gerstenmaier told reporters that despite the slow opening, the parachute worked as expected – stressing that Crew Dragon can splash up under three parachutes if necessary. NASA and SpaceX teams inspected the Crew-2 parachutes after recovering them from the water and looked at the flight details, with Gerstenmaier saying nothing was unusual after the review.
The company plans to continue reusing its Crew Dragon capsules, having already done so on the Crew-2 and Inspiration4 missions.
The rocket: Falcon 9
Crew Dragon will launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, with the booster – the large, lower portion of the rocket – expected to land on the company’s autonomous barge in the Atlantic.
SpaceX conducted a static fire on the rocket on October 28, igniting its nine engines for a few seconds while it stood on the launch pad.
Falcon 9 has become the workhorse of SpaceX’s growing fleet. The missile is nearly 230 feet tall and can shoot up to 25 tons in low earth orbit. The Falcon 9 series is qualified to fly up to 10 flights, and SpaceX continues to push the boundaries of reusability with satellite launches.
The starting plan
The astronauts get dressed four hours before take-off. About half an hour later, the crew will go on their Model X rides, complete with NASA logos, which will drive from the astronaut quarters to the launch pad.
Two and a half hours before take-off, the astronauts in Crew Dragon buckle up in their seats and begin to check that all systems are operational. Then, just under two hours before take-off, the hatch to the spaceship is closed.
SpaceX begins loading the rocket with fuel 35 minutes before launch and initiates a final series of processes and verifications.
A few minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s booster stage will return and attempt to land on the company’s Atlantic-based barge.
If something goes wrong in the last half hour before takeoff or even during takeoff, Crew Dragon will abort and fire its emergency exit system. The company tested this system without anyone in the spaceship. In this test, SpaceX triggered the system during the most intense part of the launch to show that it could be done at any time.
Upon arrival on the ISS, Crew-3 will conduct a full-term mission and spend approximately six months on board.