NASA is delaying the next commercial crew mission to the International Space Station for about a month after the Falcon 9 booster vehicle it will launch was damaged during transit across the country for testing.
NASA announced on July 21 that the Crew-5 mission is now scheduled to launch no later than September 29, after previously scheduled for early September. The spacecraft will carry NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Casada, astronaut Jaxa Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos astronaut Anna Kekina to the station.
In the statement, NASA said the revised launch date “will allow SpaceX to complete hardware processing.” Crew-5 will now arrive at the International Space Station following the delivery of the Soyuz crew in mid-September, when the Soyuz MS-22 will arrive with Roscosmos astronauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. Soyuz MS-21 will return with Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsakov and Denis Matveev.
The Crew-5 launch will use the new Falcon 9 booster, a relatively rare event given SpaceX’s extensive reuse of boosters. NASA said in a statement that SpaceX will have to remove the rocket’s interface – the part between the booster and the upper stage – and some of the hardware after they were damaged during transportation from the SpaceX plant in Hawthorne, California, to the booster test site in McGregor, Texas.
SpaceX conducted inspections and testing of the booster to ensure the damage was limited to the interstitial phase, work that NASA said it has reviewed. The booster will now undergo regular stage tests at McGregor before receiving flight certification.
Neither SpaceX nor NASA disclosed when the booster was damaged. In a pre-launch briefing on July 13 about the CRS-25 cargo Dragon mission to the station, NASA ISS deputy program manager Dana Weigl said they still plan to launch Crew-5 at the beginning of September.
However, in a July 20 briefing about the Artemis 1 mission, NASA officials said the launch has been undone. This mission has three possible launch dates of August 29, September 2 and September 5, raising questions about potential conflicts with the Crew-5 launch in early September.
“Before the Crew-5 slipped, we were working closely with them,” Jim Free, associate director of Exploration Systems Development, said of discussions with the Commercial Crew Program about coordinating launches. “We will do the same if we end up at the end of September.”
Ironically, NASA has become more comfortable for astronauts while flying on the reused Falcon 9 boosters and Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Crew-4 mission that launched to the station in April used a Falcon 9 booster on its fourth flight.
Sandra Magnus, a member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Board, said during the committee’s July 21 meeting.
“As a result, NASA has determined that it feels comfortable with up to five reuses of both the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon capsule,” she said.
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