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Aerospace launch services provider and equipment manufacturer Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) made history earlier this year when it flew NASA astronauts Col. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) on top a Falcon 9 rocket and inside its Dragon 2 crewed spacecraft. The two astronauts flew as part of NASA's DM-2 demonstration mission that aims to test and certify the Dragon 2 for crewed missions to the ISS for resuming manned spaceflight from U.S. soil after the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
Now, with the Dragon 2 crew aiding Expedition 63's commander Chris Cassidy onboard the ISS in replacing the aging station's batteries, SpaceX and NASA are busy preparing for the first commercial crew mission of the Dragon 2 spacecraft revealed the agency today.
SpaceX Falcon 9 Will Fly Four Astronauts To The ISS Once NASA Certifies Dragon 2 Vehicle As Flight Worthy
Similar to the Dragon 2 DM-2 mission, a Falcon 9 booster will also fly the Crew-1 mission to the ISS later this year once the Dragon 2 has been fully evaluated by NASA as flight worthy for ferrying astronauts to the orbiting space laboratory. This booster arrived in Florida on Tuesday, the agency confirmed today where it will be joined by the Crew-1 Dragon vehicle once the vehicle finishes its testing taking place in Hawthorne, California.
As part of updates to the DM-2 Dragon 2's testing that is currently underway in low earth orbit (LEO) NASA revealed that both it and SpaceX are preparing for the first commercial launch of the mission. Agency officials, in a press briefing, stated that a minimum time gap of six weeks is needed between the splashdown of the Dragon 2 vehicle currently being tested and for the Crew-1 mission to take to the skies to resume manned spaceflight to LEO from America.
At the time of NASA's briefing, the Dragon 2 spacecraft that will undertake the Crew-1 mission was undergoing propulsion system and valve leak checks, with the vehicle slated to enter acoustic testing once these were finished. After testing, the Crew-1 Dragon 2 is slated to be shipped to NASA's facilities in Florida, where it will join the Falcon 9 booster that arrived earlier this week.
The Falcon 9 for the Crew-1 mission will undergo pre-launch processing in SpaceX's facility in the Air Force's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Timeline of arrival for the Dragon 2 from Hawthorne is unknown, but given that the DM-2 Dragon 2 currently docked with the ISS is yet to return, SpaceX and NASA have plenty of time to smooth things out for the Crew-1 mission.
As opposed to the DM-2 Dragon 2 which is capable of docking only with the ISS' Harmony module, the Crew-1 Dragon 2 will also be able to dock with other modules of the space station. The spacecraft will not only fly American but also international astronauts to the ISS, and as part of the Crew-1 mission, the Dragon 2 will carry astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi to the space station.
Similar to the DM-2 mission, the Crew-1 mission will also launch from Launch Complex 39A in NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The announcement comes as Behnken and Cassidy commence another series of spacewalks today that are aimed at replacing the ISS batteries, with today's spacewalk being the first of the last two that are part of a five-year effort for replacement.