NASA to Secure Additional Commercial Crew Transportation

NASA insignia.NASA intends to issue a sole source modification to SpaceX to acquire up to three additional crew flights to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract. The additional crew flights allow NASA to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the space station.

In October, NASA issued a request for information from American industry capable of providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective human space transportation services to and from the International Space Station to ensure a continuous human presence aboard the microgravity laboratory.

After a thorough review of the near-term certified capabilities and responses from American industry, NASA’s assessment is that the SpaceX crew transportation system is the only one certified to meet NASA’s safety requirements to transport crew to the space station, and to maintain the agency’s obligation to its international partners in the needed timeframe.

“It’s critical we begin to secure additional flights to the space station now so we are ready as these missions are needed to maintain a U.S. presence on station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. “Our U.S. human launch capability is essential to our continued safe operations in orbit and to building our low-Earth orbit economy.”

NASA anticipates a potential need to use any additional flights as early as 2023 to maintain mission readiness. Securing additional flights now also allows NASA to continue working with Boeing on the development of the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which also will fly NASA and international partner astronauts to and from the space station after completing its certification effort.

“NASA commends Boeing for its ongoing investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August, prioritizing safety over schedule while working to solve this challenge,” said Phil McAlister, director, commercial spaceflight at NASA. “NASA and Boeing will provide additional updates on the status of Starliner’s next mission as we work through the investigation and verification efforts to determine root cause and effective vehicle remediation.”

NASA continues to have a need for two unique crew capabilities to ensure dissimilar redundancy, maintain safe space station operations, and allow each company to work through any unforeseen issues that could arise as private industry builds operational experience with these new systems. NASA’s plan is still to alternate missions between SpaceX and Boeing, once both are operational.

The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.

NASA also is working to extend the life of the space station beyond 2024 to allow for a seamless transition to commercially operated, low-Earth orbit destinations and allow NASA to continue its vital scientific research to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to benefit life on Earth. NASA continues to anticipate a need for crew transportation into the foreseeable future as the agency enables a low-Earth orbit economy.

In 2014, NASA awarded the CCtCap contracts to Boeing and SpaceX through a public-private partnership as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Under CCtCap, NASA certifies that a provider’s space transportation system meets the agency’s requirements prior to flying missions with astronauts. After years of development, commercial crew systems have achieved or are nearing operational readiness for regular crewed missions, including providing a lifeboat capability, to the space station.

For more than 20 years, NASA has continuously had astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As a global endeavor, 249 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 109 countries and areas.

The station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and to expand commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit. As commercial companies focus on providing human space transportation services and developing a robust low-Earth orbit economy, NASA is preparing for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The Station Crew Welcomed Four New Members

The Expedition 66 crew poses for a photo after SpaceX Crew-3's arrival to station.
The Expedition 66 crew poses for a photo after SpaceX Crew-3’s arrival to station. Credit: NASA TV

Running more than 30 minutes ahead of schedule, the SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts docked to the International Space Station at 6:32 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer opened the hatch of their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance at 8:25 p.m. and participated in a welcome ceremony with their new Expedition 66 crewmates at 9 p.m.

On board to welcome them were fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Expedition 66 Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos. Joining the welcome ceremony from Earth were Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations, NASA and Josef Aschbacher, ESA director-general.

The newest crew to the microgravity laboratory is the agency’s third crew rotation mission with SpaceX and will remain on board until April 2022 as a part of Expedition 66.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Crew Dragon Endurance Docked to the Space Station

Nov. 11, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman's Cygnus space freighter; the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle; and Russia's Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and Progress 78 and 79 resupply ships.
Nov. 11, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter; the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle; and Russia’s Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and Progress 78 and 79 resupply ships.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer arrived at the International Space Station at 6:32 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 11. Crew Dragon Endurance docked to the orbital complex while the spacecraft were flying 260 miles above the eastern Caribbean Sea.

Following Crew Dragon’s link up to the Harmony module, the astronauts aboard the Endurance and the space station will begin conducting standard leak checks and pressurization between the spacecraft in preparation for hatch opening scheduled for approximately 8:10 p.m.

Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew of Mark Vande Hei of NASA and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos for a planned six-month mission living and working aboard the microgravity laboratory to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration approach, including lunar missions through NASA’s Artemis program.

The welcome ceremony is at approximately 8:45 p.m. with time subject to change.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission lifted off at 9:03 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s third crew rotation mission.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Watch SpaceX Crew-3 Arrival Live on NASA TV

The astronauts of SpaceX Crew-3 pose for a portrait in their suits during a training session inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. From left are, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron.
The astronauts of SpaceX Crew-3 pose for a portrait in their suits during a training session inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. From left are, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron. Credit: SpaceX

NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing live continuous coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission carrying NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on their way to the International Space Station 

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance, began the final phase of its approach to the station at 5:02 p.m. EST Thursday and is scheduled to dock at about 6:32 p.m. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously, but the crew aboard the spacecraft and the space station will monitor the performance of the spacecraft as it approaches and docks to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module. 

The hatch opening now is approximately at 8:10 p.m. and the welcome ceremony is at approximately 8:45 p.m. with times subject to change.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission lifted off at 9:03 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s third crew rotation mission.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Ahead of Schedule for Docking

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured during its approach to the International Space Station on April 24, 2021.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured during its approach to the International Space Station on April 24, 2021.

NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing live continuous coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, flying on Crew Dragon Endurance, currently are ahead of the planned mission timeline. The international crew of four now are expected to dock with the microgravity laboratory at approximately 6:33 p.m. EST, today, Thursday, Nov. 11.

Here’s an updated timeline of mission activities:

All times approximate (EST)

3:31 p.m. – Mattias Maurer Downlink Event for Germany

5:06 p.m. – Approach Initiation Burn

6:33 p.m. – Docking

The hatch opening and welcome ceremony also are expected to move ahead in the timeline.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission lifted off at 9:03 p.m. on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s third crew rotation mission.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog@commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Underway as Endurance Journeys to Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon atop, soars upward after liftoff from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 10, 2021. Aboard the Crew Dragon are SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts Raja Chari, commander; Tom Marshburn, pilot; and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; along with Matthias Maurer, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and mission specialist. Launch time was at 9:03 p.m. EST. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer are on their way to the International Space Station, following the picture-perfect launch of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the crew, launched atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida at 9:03 p.m. EST.

“What a beautiful evening for a launch. It was another great experience seeing those four guys take off into space on top of that Falcon 9 on that Dragon,” said NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana. “It is a huge challenge to safely get humans to and from low-Earth orbit, and the partnerships that we have with our international partners and our commercial crew partners has enabled this space economy that we have right now. What a great time to be part of America’s space program.”

Upon their arrival at the space station, the Crew-3 astronauts will be greeted by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov – the Expedition 66 crew already on board. During their six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew in conducting a number of science and research investigations.

Some of these include a food physiology experiment that will study the impacts of an enhanced spaceflight diet on astronaut health, a sensor that will test a set of LED beacons with which Astrobee free-flying robots will interact during formation flight maneuvers, and a Human Research Program project that will collect a set of core measurements related to human spaceflight risks from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions.

The SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts wave to family and friends after walking out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building’s Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on launch day, Nov. 10, 2021.
The SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts wave to family and friends after walking out through the double doors below the Neil A. Armstrong Building’s Astronaut Crew Quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on launch day, Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Crew-3 is the third of six crew rotation missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This is the first flight for Chari, Barron, and Maurer, and the third for Marshburn, who flew on STS-127 and Expedition 34/35.

Crew-3 astronauts are slated to arrive at the space station tomorrow, Nov. 11, with docking targeted for 7:10 p.m. EST. Following docking and hatch opening, a welcoming ceremony is planned for 9:20 p.m. EST. Participants will include:

  • The Expedition 66 crew aboard the station
  • Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA
  • David Parker, director, Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA

Coverage of Crew-3’s arrival to the station will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website, beginning with docking at 7:10 p.m. EST.

For mission updates, visit the station blog at https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/. Learn more about commercial crew and space station activities by following @Commercial_Crew@space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the Commercial Crew FacebookISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Crew-3 Postlaunch News Teleconference Set for 10 p.m.

NASA's SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are seen inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft before lifting off on the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are seen inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft before lifting off on the agency’s Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. From left are ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron. Photo credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on their way to the International Space Station has safely reached orbit, and the nosecone has been opened.

At 10 p.m., NASA will host a postlaunch news teleconference from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Participants in the briefing will be:

  • Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
  • Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
  • Joel Montalbano, manager, International Space Station Program, NASA Johnson
  • Sarah Walker, director, Dragon Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Frank de Winne, program manager, International Space Station, ESA

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

Learn more about station activities by following  @space_station  and @ISS_Research  on Twitter as well as the  ISS Facebook  and  ISS Instagram  accounts.

Separation Confirmed, Crew Dragon Now Flying Solo

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft separates from the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage for the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully separates from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, sending the Crew-3 astronauts on their solo journey to the International Space Station on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the Crew-3 astronauts, has successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and is now flying on its own.

The spacecraft has safely reached orbit, and its nosecone has been opened. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, along with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer are slated to arrive at the International Space Station about 22 hours from now, around 7:10 p.m. EST on Nov. 11.

First Stage Sticks the Landing!

The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully lands on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean following launch of the agency's SpaceX Crew-3 mission.
The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lands on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean following launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10, 2021. Photo credit: NASA

The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has successfully landed on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket used for today’s mission previously flew on SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station in June 2021.

Next up, Crew Dragon will separate from the rocket’s second stage to continue its journey to the International Space Station.

Falcon 9 Second Stage Engine Shuts Down

Shutdown of the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage engines occurs right on time, and Crew Dragon is now in orbit. In just a moment, the rocket’s first stage will attempt to land on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.