SpaceX’s next Dragon passengers will have to wait a little longer to get off the ground.
SpaceX and NASA will launch Crew-5, their next crewed mission to the International Space Station, no earlier than September 29, according to a NASA statement (opens in a new tab) released Thursday (July 21). The delay will cause the mission to slip behind the next launch of astronauts on a Russian Soyuz vehicle.
“A late September launch will allow SpaceX to complete hardware processing and mission teams will continue to assess the launch date based on the space station’s spacecraft visit schedule,” NASA officials wrote.
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Crew-5 includes NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
The flight will be a crucial milestone for NASA, which has long argued for “crew swaps” in which Russian cosmonauts fly on NASA’s commercially procured missions and NASA astronauts continue to ride on Russian Soyuz capsules.
After long negotiations, NASA announced last week that Crew-5 will be the first SpaceX flight to carry a cosmonaut. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have also agreed that cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev will fly on Crew-6, which is currently aiming for a spring launch. Meanwhile, NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Loral O’Hara will fly on Soyuz missions in the coming months.
The new schedule for Crew-5 means the vehicles will change launch sites as well as passengers.
The Crew-5 mission had previously aimed to arrive at the orbital laboratory earlier in September. Under the new plan, instead of Crew-5 replacing the Crew-4 astronauts currently in orbit before the next Soyuz launch, the Soyuz crews will rotate first. The launch of the next Soyuz and return of the current Soyuz crew is scheduled to take place between September 16 and September 30, according to NASA.
In addition to the schedule update, NASA and SpaceX also offered details about the rocket and capsule that will fly Crew-5.
The mission will use the Dragon capsule Endurance, which also carried Crew-3 for a November 2021 launch; the capsule returned to Earth from that flight in early May. Although SpaceX routinely denies its hardware, NASA noted that this flight will mark a new milestone; it will be the first commercial crew flight to have four veteran Draco engines to power the capsule, without new so-called forward Draco engines. The teams are also replacing the capsule’s heat shield, parachutes and pod panels, according to the statement.
Endurance will launch atop a brand new Falcon 9 booster, but mission personnel still have some issues to address on that end as well. The booster sustained some damage during its journey from the SpaceX manufacturing center in California to a test facility in Texas, according to the statement. Consequently, the company replaces both the intermediate stage, which connects the first and second stage, and some instruments.
Both SpaceX and NASA are confident about the booster, which underwent a series of tests to ensure there was no damage beyond the intermediate stage segment; additional tests will also take place after all replacements are completed, according to the statement.