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.

Cargo Dragon Departs Station, Returns to Earth July 9

July 8, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are docked at the space station including the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Russia’s Soyuz MS-18 crew ship and ISS Progress 77 and 78 resupply ships.
July 8, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are docked at the space station including the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Russia’s Soyuz MS-18 crew ship and ISS Progress 77 and 78 resupply ships. Photo credit: NASA

With NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough  monitoring aboard the International Space Station, a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Docking Adapter on the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module at 10:45 a.m. EDT on July 8.

Dragon fired its thrusters to move a safe distance from the space station during the next 36 hours. On Friday, July 9, Dragon conducted a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon splashed down at approximately 11:29 p.m. in the Gulf of Mexico near Tallahassee, Florida. The splashdown was not broadcast.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers as soon as four to nine hours after splashdown. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects. The Dragon’s departure was the second splashdown of a U.S. commercial cargo craft off the Florida coast. Previous cargo Dragon spacecraft returned to the Pacific Ocean, with quick-return science cargo processed at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, and delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Dragon launched June 3 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station a little less than 16 hours later. The spacecraft delivered more than 7,300 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost. Dragon’s external cargo “trunk” carried six new ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs), two of which Expedition 65 crew members Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet, an ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut, installed during three spacewalks June 16, 20, and 25.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon returned to Earth include:

  • Lyophilization-2 examines how gravity affects freeze-dried materials and could result in improved freeze-drying processes for pharmaceutical and other industries. Freeze-drying also has potential use for long-term storage of medications and other resources on future exploration missions.
  • Molecular Muscle Experiment-2 tests a series of drugs to see whether they can improve health in space, possibly leading to new therapeutic targets for examination on Earth.
  • Oral Biofilms in Space studies how gravity affects the structure, composition, and activity of oral bacteria in the presence of common oral care agents. Findings could support development of novel treatments to fight oral diseases such as cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis.

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

Dragon Undocking Planned Thursday, Crew Focuses on Space Research

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the space station on June 5, 2021. At center right, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is also pictured docked to the Harmony module.
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the space station on June 5, 2021. At center right, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is also pictured docked to the Harmony module. Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX CRS-22 undocking is planned for Thursday, July 8 at 10:35 a.m. EDT, with NASA TV coverage scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. NASA and SpaceX flight control teams continue to monitor the weather and splashdown locations. Certain parameters like wind speeds and wave heights must be within certain limits to ensure the safety of the recovery teams, the science, and the spacecraft. Additional opportunities are available on July 9 and 10. The space freighter’s departure had been scheduled for earlier this week but was postponed due to weather conditions off the coast of Florida.

Meanwhile, the Expedition 65 crew members stayed focused on a variety of science activities including human health, robotics and physics.

Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet took turns working out on an exercise cycle Wednesday for a fitness test. The veteran astronauts attached sensors to their chests and pedaled for an hour on the device more formally known as the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization, or CEVIS. The test took place in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module and measures how microgravity affects the duo’s physical exertion, or aerobic capacity.

NASA Flight Engineer Megan McArthur focused on electronics maintenance and robotics research throughout Wednesday. The two-time space visitor powered up a cube-shaped AstroBee robotic helper and tested new technology that monitors the acoustic environment of the station. SoundSee seeks to demonstrate that “listening” to station components can help detect anomalies in spacecraft systems that need servicing.

Space manufacturing using colloids is being investigated for the ability to harness nanoparticles to fabricate new and advanced materials. Station commander Akihiko Hoshide conducted three runs inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox of the InSPACE-4 study today that could improve the strength and safety of Earth and space systems.

The trio that launched to the station aboard the Soyuz MS-18 crew ship practiced an emergency evacuation drill during the morning. NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei joined cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov and reviewed procedures such as donning gas masks, quickly entering the Soyuz spacecraft, undocking and reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Vande Hei later assisted McArthur with cable management work inside the Tranquility module. Novitskiy and Dubrov wrapped up the day disconnecting antenna cables inside their Soyuz vehicle.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Wednesday, July 21, for Crew Dragon Endeavour’s International Space Station port relocation operation. Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide Pesquet will suit up in their launch and entry spacesuits for Crew Dragon’s automated relocation maneuver from the forward to the space-facing port of the station’s Harmony module. The maneuver frees up the forward port to prepare for the arrival of NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission at the microgravity laboratory at the end of July.

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