NASA, SpaceX Adjust Next Crew Launch Date to Space Station

SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts (from left) Matthias Maurer, Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron pose for a portrait during preflight training.
SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts (from left) Matthias Maurer, Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron pose for a portrait during preflight training at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 2:21 a.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 31, for the agency’s Crew-3 launch to the International Space Station to allow additional time for spacecraft processing. The backup launch time and date is 1:10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3.

 

The official insignia for NASA's SpaceX Crew-3 launch.NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander, Tom Marshburn, pilot, and Kayla Barron, mission specialist as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, will launch on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The international crew entered their official quarantine Oct. 16, and will travel to Kennedy in the coming days for final training and preparations prior to launch.

 

Crew-3 astronauts are scheduled for a long-duration science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory, living and working as part of what is expected to be a seven-member crew. Launch on Oct. 31 would have Crew-3 arriving at the space station early on the morning of Monday, Nov. 1, for a short handover with the astronauts who flew to the station in April as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission.

 

With the Crew-3 launch date adjustment, return of Crew-2 with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, currently is planned for early November with splashdown of Crew Dragon Endeavour at one of seven landing zones off the coast of Florida.

SpaceX Crew-3 Astronauts Enter Quarantine for Mission to Space Station

Crew-3 astronauts Matthias Maurer, Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron pose for a photo in their SpaceX spacesuits.
The astronauts of Crew-3 pose for a portrait in their space suits during a training session. From left are ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron. Chari is commander, Marshburn is the pilot, and Barron and Maurer are both mission specialists. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, entered their official quarantine period beginning Saturday, Oct. 16, in preparation for their flight to the International Space Station on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission. They will lift off at 2:43 a.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 30, aboard the SpaceX Dragon Endurance, atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For crews preparing to launch, “flight crew health stabilization” is a routine part of the final preparations for all missions to the space station. Spending the final two weeks before liftoff in quarantine will help ensure the Crew-3 crew is healthy, protecting themselves and the astronauts already on the space station.

If they are able to maintain quarantine conditions at home, crew members can choose to quarantine from there until they travel to Kennedy. If they are unable to maintain quarantine conditions at home — for example, if a household member can’t maintain quarantine because of job or school requirements — they have the option of living in the Astronaut Quarantine Facility at Johnson Space Center until they leave for Kennedy.

Some additional safeguards have been added because of the coronavirus. Anyone who will come on-site or interact with the crew during the quarantine period, as well as any VIPs, will be screened for temperature and symptoms. Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer, as well as those in direct, close contact with the crew, will be tested twice for the virus as a precaution.

Crew-3 astronauts will become the third crew to fly a full-duration mission to the space station on Dragon for a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory. They are scheduled to arrive at the space station 22 hours later at 12:30 a.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 31, for a short overlap with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April 2021. Also on board are Mark Vande Hei, NASA astronaut and Pytor Dubrov, cosmonaut of the Russian space agency Roscosmos who flew to the station on a Soyuz spacecraft for Expedition 65 in April 9, 2021, and Anton Shkaplerov, cosmonaut of the Russian space agency who flew to the station on a Soyuz spacecraft Oct. 5, 2021.

More details about the mission and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found in the press kit online and by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.

NASA, Boeing Update Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 Status

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is seen in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 12, 2021.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is seen in the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 12, 2021. Part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on the company’s path to fly crew missions for NASA. Photo credit: Boeing

Editor’s note: This blog was updated Oct. 8 to reflect that the team is working toward launch opportunities in the first half of 2022 for Orbital Flight Test-2.

The NASA, Boeing team continues to make progress on the investigation of the oxidizer isolation valve issue on the Starliner service module propulsion system that was discovered ahead of the planned uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station in August.

“I am proud of the work our integrated teams are doing,” said Steve Stich, manager of the Commercial Crew Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “This is a complex issue involving hazardous commodities and intricate areas of the spacecraft that are not easily accessed. It has taken a methodical approach and sound engineering to effectively examine.”

Boeing has demonstrated success in valve functionality using localized heating and electrical charging techniques. Troubleshooting on the pad, at the launch complex, and inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center has resulted in movement of all but one of the original stuck valves. That valve has not been moved intentionally to preserve forensics for direct root cause analysis.

Most items on the fault tree have been dispositioned by the team including causes related to avionics, flight software and wiring. Boeing has identified a most probable cause related to oxidizer and moisture interactions, and although some verification work remains underway, our confidence is high enough that we are commencing corrective and preventive actions. Additional spacecraft and component testing will be conducted in the coming weeks to further explore contributing factors and necessary system remediation before flight.

Boeing completed a partial disassembly of three of the affected Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control (OMAC) thruster valves last month and plans to remove three valves from the OFT-2 spacecraft in the coming weeks for further inspection. The team also is evaluating additional testing to repeat the initial valve failures.

Boeing has identified several paths forward depending on the outcome of the testing to ultimately resolve the issue and prevent it from happening on future flights. These options could range from minor refurbishment of the current service module components to using another service module already in production. Each option is dependent on data points the team expects to collect in the coming weeks including a timeline for safely proceeding back to the launch pad.

“Safety of the Starliner spacecraft, our employees, and our crew members is this team’s number one priority,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Starliner program. “We are taking the appropriate amount of time to work through the process now to set this system up for success on OFT-2 and all future Starliner missions.”

Potential launch windows for OFT-2 continue to be assessed by NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range. The team currently is working toward opportunities in the first half of 2022 pending hardware readiness, the rocket manifest, and space station availability.

NASA, SpaceX Update Upcoming Commercial Crew Flights

With a view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at left, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021, for NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 mission.
With a view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at left, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021, carrying the company’s Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission. Launch time was at 5:49 a.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA and SpaceX leadership provided an update Oct. 6 as part of the agency’s Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station – the third crew rotation flight that will carry an international crew of four astronauts on a science expedition to the microgravity laboratory as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer will launch aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft launching on a Falcon 9 rocket on its way to the space station. The mission is scheduled to lift off Saturday, Oct. 30, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Crew-3 mission will fly a new Crew Dragon spacecraft, and will be the first mission to fly a previously used nosecone.

Crew-3 astronauts also will provide an update on their upcoming mission at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 7, on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas prior to going into standard preflight quarantine ahead final launch preparations.

Launch on Oct. 30 would have Crew-3 arriving at the space station early the next day after an approximate 22-hour journey for a short overlap with the astronauts who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission.

Prior to launch, NASA and SpaceX will complete a final dress rehearsal for the mission, and continue reviewing data as a part of the standard mission reviews. In support of Crew-3, SpaceX implemented several improvements to the Crew Dragon system based on knowledge gained from previous flights, including making a software change to build in more communications robustness against radiation effects while docked, adding more cleaning techniques to cut down on foreign object debris, improving computer performance during re-entry, and enhancing the spacecraft’s docking procedures and mechanisms to mitigate hardware interference on the International Space Station side of the interface.

NASA and SpaceX also have been working to conduct joint inspections of the waste management system on the Crew-2 spacecraft at the space station following an observation during a non-NASA mission. Based on the inspections, teams will limit the use of the waste system during the return flight of Crew-2. Earlier this year, the Dragon spacecraft supporting the Crew-2 mission completed a short port relocation flight around the International Space Station, and all systems on the spacecraft performed normally during its undocking and re-docking maneuver. SpaceX will implement a small design improvement on the new Dragon spacecraft supporting the Crew-3 mission and all future spacecraft to make the system even more robust.

Through data sharing with SpaceX, NASA also has gained additional insight into higher-altitude flights of Crew Dragon, the performance of the thermal protection system, and more data on micrometeoroid environment of space helping to improve modeling. In addition, NASA learned more about the environmental control and life support system on an extended in-orbit mission with crew continuously on board, including the system’s carbon dioxide scrubber. On all missions, including cargo flights, SpaceX continues to recover and examine parachutes for continued analysis by NASA, ultimately driving up the safety of all missions.

After Crew-3 arrival to the space station, return of the Crew-2 mission with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, is planned for early November. This Friday, the Crew-2 spacecraft is targeted to break the record set by Crew Dragon Resilience as it passes 168 days in orbit.

Missions teams continue to target April 15, 2022, for the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the space station for a six-month science mission aboard the microgravity laboratory.

Crew-4 will be commanded by Kjell Lindgren with Bob Hines as pilot, both NASA astronauts. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will be a mission specialist and command the station’s Expedition 68 crew, while the remaining crew member has yet to be named. Crew-3 astronauts are set to return to Earth in late April 2022 following a similar handover with Crew-4.

NASA also announced it has reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station. NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions.

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps remains assigned to NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 for a long-duration science mission aboard the International Space Station. It is important for Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and Jeanette Epps to gain their first spaceflight experience, and Epps currently is cross training with the team on the Crew Dragon system. There are many factors in play before any crew assignment is ready, including discussions with our international partners and Multilateral Crew Operations Panel approval. All three crew members have ample time to train on commercial crew systems and become fully prepared for their missions to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore, Mike Fincke, and Suni Williams will continue to provide experience for Boeing as the agency prepares for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test and Starliner-1 missions. Additional Boeing flight assignments will be made in the future.

NASA Announces Astronaut Changes for Upcoming Commercial Crew Missions

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, left, and Josh Cassada, right.
NASA crew members of the SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station. Pictured from left are NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada.
Photo credit: NASA

NASA has reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

Mann and Cassada will serve as spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively, for the Crew-5 mission. Additional crew members will be announced later.

Crew-5 is expected to launch no earlier than fall 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The duo and their crewmates will join an expedition crew aboard station for a long duration stay to conduct science activities for the benefit of humanity and exploration.

Mann and Cassada previously were assigned to missions on NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test and NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, respectively. NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions.

NASA astronauts Butch WilmoreMike Fincke, and Suni Williams will continue to provide experience for Boeing as the agency prepares for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test. Additional Boeing flight assignments will be made in the future.

Click here to read the full advisory.

NASA, SpaceX Continue Planning for Next Crew Rotation Missions to International Space Station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021.
With a view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at left, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021, carrying a crew of four on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission. Launch time was at 5:49 a.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA and SpaceX are continuing plans to launch Crew-3 astronauts to the International Space Station as early as Sunday Oct. 31, and targeting the return home of Crew-2 astronauts in the early-to-mid November timeframe.

Crew-3 will be the third crew rotation mission with astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft from the United States to the space station, and the fourth flight with astronauts, including the Demo-2 test flight in 2020, Crew-1 mission in 2020-21, and the ongoing Crew-2 flight as part of the Expedition 65 crew.

The Crew-3 mission will launch NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander, Tom Marshburn, pilot, and Kayla Barron, mission specialist, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew is scheduled for a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, living and working as part of what is expected to be a seven-member crew.

Crew-3 astronauts plan to arrive at the station to overlap with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April 2021.

Missions teams also are targeting no earlier than April 15, 2022, for the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the space station for a six-month science mission aboard the microgravity laboratory.

Crew-4 will be commanded by Kjell Lindgren with Bob Hines as pilot, both NASA astronauts. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will be a mission specialist and command the ISS Expedition 68 crew, while the remaining crew member has yet to be named. Crew-3 astronauts are set to return to Earth in late April 2022 following a similar handover with Crew-4.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with industry through a public-private partnership to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station, which will allow for additional research time and will increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. The space station remains the springboard to space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Starliner Returns to Factory, Preparations Underway to Resolve Valve Issue

OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returned Aug. 19, 2021, from the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where teams will work to diagnose and resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 launch attempt of NASA Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2. Photo credit: Boeing

Teams from Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) safely returned the CST-100 Starliner to its production facility in Florida on Aug. 19 for continued work on the spacecraft’s service module propulsion system.

The Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft was removed from its Atlas V rocket inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and returned to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The team now will perform propulsion system checkouts inside the factory’s hazardous processing area and determine the appropriate vehicle configuration for accessing and analyzing the system further. NASA and Boeing will recommend forward work as part of a formal process designed to aid in determining root cause and remediation steps.

In the weeks ahead, engineering teams from NASA and Boeing will work to diagnose and ultimately resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 countdown for NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2, and resulted in the decision to postpone the launch destined for the International Space Station.

NASA, Boeing, and ULA will establish a new launch date once the issue is resolved.

NASA, Boeing to Move Starliner to Production Facility for Propulsion System Evaluation

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is in view in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 9, 2021.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is in view in the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 on Aug. 9, 2021. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing have decided to postpone the launch of Orbital Flight Test-2 to the International Space Station as teams continue work on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system.

Engineering teams have been working to restore functionality to several valves in the Starliner propulsion system from inside United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility that did not open as designed during the launch countdown for the Aug. 3 launch attempt. The valves connect to thrusters that enable abort and in-orbit maneuvering.

“We made a lot of progress to open the valves from inside the Vertical Integration Facility, and the NASA-Boeing teams did a great job doing everything we could to get ready for this launch opportunity,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Although we wanted to see Starliner fly in this window, it’s critical that our primary focus is the safety of the crew transportation system – for the safety of the space station and the crew members that will be flying on these vehicles. We’ll only fly this test when we think we are ready, and can complete the mission objectives.”

Inside the VIF, Boeing was able to prompt nine of 13 valves open that previously were in the closed position using commanding, mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques. Teams will now begin the process to move Starliner back to Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida for deeper-level troubleshooting of four propulsion system valves that remain closed and more detailed analysis on the spacecraft.

“Mission success in human spaceflight depends on thousands of factors coming together at the right time,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “We’ll continue to work the issue from the Starliner factory and have decided to stand down for this launch window to make way for other national priority missions.”

NASA, Boeing and ULA will establish a new launch date once the issue is resolved.

NASA, Boeing Make Progress on Starliner Valve Issue

Boeing engineers continue work at the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility on the Starliner propulsion system valves.
Boeing engineers continue work at the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility on the Starliner propulsion system valves. Photo credit: Boeing

NASA and Boeing continued work over the weekend and Monday morning on the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft service module propulsion system in preparation for the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission to the International Space Station.

Work progressed to restore functionality to several valves in the Starliner propulsion system that did not open as designed during the launch countdown for the Aug. 3 launch attempt. The valves connect to thrusters that enable abort and in-orbit maneuvering.

With the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V and Starliner in the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) near Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, engineering teams are able to power on Starliner allowing the vehicle to receive commands, and have direct access to the spacecraft for troubleshooting.

Inside the VIF, Boeing has been able to command seven of 13 valves open that previously were in the closed position. Test teams are applying mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques to prompt the valves to open, and are moving forward with a systematic plan to open the remainder of the affected valves, demonstrate repeatable system performance, and verify the root cause of the issue before returning Starliner to the launch pad for its Orbital Flight Test-2 mission.

Boeing also has completed physical inspections and chemical sampling on the exterior of a number of the affected valves, which indicated no signs of damage or external corrosion.

In the coming days, NASA and Boeing will continue work to bring all affected valves into the proper configuration. If all valve functionality can be restored and root cause identified, NASA will work with Boeing to determine a path to flight for the important uncrewed mission to the space station.

NASA, Boeing and ULA are assessing the potential for several launch opportunities with the earliest available in mid-August. Any launch date options would protect for the planetary window for the agency’s Lucy mission – the first-ever mission to explore Trojan asteroids.

Boeing Starliner Returned to Vertical Integration Facility for Testing

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft onboard is seen near the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Photo by NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA and Boeing are continuing to work through steps to determine what caused the unexpected valve position indications on the CST-100 Starliner propulsion system during the countdown for its Aug. 3 launch attempt.

Now that the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Starliner spacecraft on top has been returned to its Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, engineers will have direct access to Starliner with the assembly of support structures around the spacecraft’s service module for continued troubleshooting.

Boeing will power up Starliner, allowing the vehicle to receive commands providing the teams with real-time data.

The data will drive any corrective measures that may be necessary to ensure Starliner is ready for launch. When NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Boeing agree the issue is resolved, a new launch opportunity will be selected, taking into account the readiness of all parties involved and the availability of the International Space Station and its crew to support the spacecraft’s arrival.