Launch preparations for NASA’s Lucy spacecraft are well underway at an Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida. The spacecraft arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center on July 30, 2021, and shortly after its arrival, was transported to Astrotech’s facility nearby to undergo prelaunch processing.
The latest milestone occurred on Sept. 9, when Lucy was attached to the payload adapter. This is the physical structure that will secure the spacecraft to the launch vehicle – in this case, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Closer to launch, the payload adapter will be attached to the rocket’s second stage.
Liftoff of the Atlas V is scheduled for Oct. 16 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and the launch is being managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy – America’s multi-user spaceport.
Lucy will be the first space mission to study the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids are thought to be remnants of the initial material that formed the planets within the solar system. Over the course of 12 years, Lucy will visit eight different asteroids, providing researchers and scientists with a never-before-seen glimpse into the origins of our solar system.
NASA and United Launch Alliance currently are reviewing the launch date for the Landsat 9 spacecraft scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Attaching the spacecraft to the Atlas V rocket has been delayed due to out-of-tolerance high winds for the operation and conflicts with other customers using the Western Range.
The Landsat 9 mission now is expected to launch from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3 no earlier than Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
Landsat 9 is a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission that continues the legacy of monitoring Earth’s land and coastal regions, which began with the first Landsat in 1972.
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.