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SpaceX may have Dragon spaceships in orbit without a break for a year

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SpaceX is preparing to launch four NASA astronauts on its Crew Dragon spaceship this Halloween — the first of six regular crewed missions the space agency has contracted from the rocket company founded by Elon Musk. (The one that concluded in August was considered a demonstration.)

That’s on top of the cargo resupply missions that SpaceX will regularly launch to the International Space Station for NASA. The company has been sending a spaceship designed to carry supplies, called Cargo Dragon, to the orbiting laboratory since 2012. That vehicle has made more than 20 trips to the station and back.

Combined, the two types of Dragon spacecraft are scheduled to launch into space seven times over the next 14 months, leading to an unprecedented situation for SpaceX.

Spacex crew dragon launch

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with a “Starman” dummy aboard on March 2, 2019.

NASA TV


“Every time there’s a Dragon launch, there’ll be two Dragons in space,” Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, said at a press conference earlier this month. 

That’s because each of the crewed SpaceX missions should overlap for a little while. The company’s next astronaut mission, called Crew 1, launches at the end of the month, then the next one, Crew-2, is scheduled to launch in late March 2021. But the Crew-1 astronauts don’t plan to leave the space station until April. The same thing should happen with the following mission, Crew-3: It’s expected to launch in September 2021, so should tag up with Crew-2 in orbit.

The Crew-1 crew includes NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, and Victor Glover, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Hopkins is to be the mission commander, Glover the pilot, and Walker and Noguchi mission specialists.

soichi noguchi victor glover shannon walker nasa jaxa astronauts spacex spacesuits portrait crew 1 dragon spaceship mission KSC 20200924 PH SPX01_0009_orig

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts participate

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Six-month mission will test limits of SpaceX Dragon, astronauts say

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Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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SpaceX reinforcing heat shield of its Dragon spacecraft ahead of planned October flight

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He said there “was nothing to be concerned with at all times. The astronauts were safe, and the vehicle was working perfectly.” The heat shield is a vital component of the spacecraft that protects the astronauts as they plunge through the thickening atmosphere, creating temperatures that reach as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to reinforcing the part of the heat shield, he said the company is refining how it measures the capsule’s altitude as it returns to Earth. During the August test flight, the drogue parachutes deployed at a slightly lower altitude than the company expected, but still well within safety parameters, he said.

Finally, SpaceX and NASA are working with the Coast Guard to create a 10-mile “keep-out zone” around the spacecraft once its splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

During the test mission, recreational boats swarmed the vehicle, still loaded with volatile propellant, after it landed in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a safety hazard. “We’re going to have more boats on the next go-round, and make sure that the area is really clear of any other boats,” Koenigsmann said.

The test mission saw Hurley and Behnken spend two months on the International Space Station before their return. Now SpaceX is scheduled to launch a crew of four astronauts — three Americans and one Japanese — in the wee hours of Oct. 31. It would be the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and the first time the company has flown four people at once on what will be a long-duration mission to the station, lasting six months.

NASA said it is close to granting SpaceX the final certification that would pave the way for the company to fly astronauts to the space station on a regular basis under NASA’s “commercial

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NASA schedules the first Crew Dragon operational flight for Halloween

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“The new target date will deconflict the Crew-1 launch and arrival from upcoming Soyuz launch and landing operations. This additional time is needed to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station, ahead of the Crew-1 arrival. The increased spacing also will provide a good window of opportunity to conduct additional testing to isolate the station atmosphere leak if required. SpaceX continues to make progress on preparations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, and the adjusted date allows the teams additional time for completing open work ahead of launch.”

The mission will take NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi, to the ISS. There will stay there for six months. SpaceX delivered the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used for this flight to Cape Canaveral in Florida back in August. The capsule will launch on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Halloween at around 2:40AM Eastern time.

NASA says it’s in the final stages of the data reviews needed for the company’s certification following Demo—2. It will broadcast a series of media briefings to provide updates about the certification process and to talk about the Crew-1 mission starting on September 29th, 11 AM Eastern.

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