NASA and SpaceX want to return one Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit on Monday evening before launching another two days later, on Wednesday night.
The agency’s crew flight plans have been in upheaval since just before Halloween, when weather worries and subsequently a slight medical issue with one of the Crew-3 mission’s four astronauts pushed the rocket’s launch from October 31 to November.
Since then, NASA and SpaceX, which provides the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle, have been assessing several concerns to find the best way to fly the Crew-3 mission and return the four Crew-2 members from the International Space Station.
The duration of the Crew-2 mission, which launches on April 23, 2021, is one of the essential elements. The Endeavour spacecraft has already been in orbit for 199 days, close to the official mission length of 210 days.
The agency decided this weekend to move the Crew-2 landing ahead of the Crew-3 launch. After evaluating weather conditions at Endeavour’s landing locations in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, NASA made this decision and the weather at Crew-3’s launch site. It also considered the circumstances along the ascending “corridor” across the northern Atlantic Ocean, where recovery would be required if an incident occurred during the mission’s launch.
Prior to returning, the NASA and SpaceX teams will select a main and alternate splashdown location from the seven probable landing sites, taking into account weather, crew rescue, and recovery operations. Additional decision milestones occur before undocking, throughout the free flight, and before Crew Dragon executes the deorbit burn.
NASA revealed their completed plan for the sequence of events on Monday morning. Endeavor, which is carrying NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide, and European astronaut Thomas Pesquet, will undock from the International Space Station on Monday 2:05 p.m. ET (19:05 UTC). After undocking, Endeavour will fly around the space station photographing its exterior to give data on the aging station’s exterior’s health.
After this maneuver, Endeavour will begin slowing down and re-entering Earth’s orbit. It will make landfall off the coast of Florida around 10:33 p.m. ET on Monday (03:33 UTC Tuesday).
NASA has not yet decided whether the spacecraft would land in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. It is currently weighing seven potential landing sites for the calmest waters. The presence of Pesquet on the space station, in particular, will be missed. For the past six months, the Frenchman has been a reliable supplier of high-quality memes. From outer space.
NASA and SpaceX will switch their attention to the launch of Crew-3 once Endeavour has landed and the crew has safely returned to Kennedy Space Center. This will need the swift relocation of sea-based assets, mainly ships engaging in recovery efforts.
As a result, NASA is now aiming for a Crew-3 launch from Kennedy Space Center no sooner than 9:03 p.m. ET on Wednesday (02:03 p.m. UTC Thursday). NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and European astronaut Matthias Maurer will ride onboard Crew Dragon Endurance. The weather forecast for a Wednesday night launch from Florida appears to be good.
According to this schedule, the Crew-3 mission will dock with the International Space Station on Thursday. The astronauts will spend the following six months in orbit completing a mix of scientific and maintenance tasks.