By Jon Reino
UPDATE 11/10: 'Crew 3' has successfully launched and has docked with the ISS, CLICK HERE to read our launch coverage, see our photo gallery, and watch launch video with high quality audio.
UPDATE 11/6: NASA has decided to prioritize the return of 'Crew 2', now scheduled to splashdown off the coast of Florida no earlier than 7:14am EST, weather permitting. This places the next potential 'Crew 3' launch window on Wednesday, November 10th, at 9:03pm EST.
UPDATE 11/4: NASA has again delayed the launch of 'Crew 3'. The 45th Weather Squadron is monitoring weather conditions for a launch attempt on Monday, November 8th, but remain concerned about "strong winds at the pad and unfavorable conditions down range."
NASA and SpaceX are also debating whether to prioritize the return of the 'Crew 2' rotation or the launch of 'Crew 3'. They will make that decision in the coming days as they review weather developments at the splashdown location. The allocation of SpaceX's recovery fleet will also be a consideration; prioritizing the 'Crew 2' return will further delay the launch of 'Crew 3'. “These are dynamic and complex decisions that change day by day,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “The weather in November can be especially challenging, so our goal is to move forward on the plan with the highest probability of mission assurance and crew safety.”
UPDATE 11/1: NASA released a statement on the 'Crew 3' blog announcing that the launch will be delayed until at least 11:36pm EDT on Saturday November 6th due to "a minor medical issue involving one of its crew members. The issue is not a medical emergency and not related to COVID-19."
UPDATE 10/30: Due to approaching storms, elevating winds, and waves along the Crew Dragon flight path, NASA has decided to delay their 'Crew 3' launch attempt. They are currently targeting 1:10am EDT on Wednesday, November 3rd. Follow us on social media to stay up to date with the latest news as we cover this launch on site. Facebook Twitter Instagram
In the early morning of October 31st, NASA is planning to launch four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a brand new SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule from Kennedy Space Center.
Crew 3 Astronauts during a training exercise (Credit: SpaceX)
From the left are Matthias Maurer (Mission Specialist), representing the European Space Agency, NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn (Pilot), Raja Chari (Commander), and Kayla Barron (Mission Specialist). The mission is scheduled to lift off no earlier than 2:21 a.m. EDT on Sunday, October 31, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After a 22-hour journey, they will dock the ISS for a six-month stay aboard the orbital laboratory. They will relieve the four astronauts of the Crew 2 mission, expected to return to Earth in early November after a six-month stay of their own. This will be the first spaceflight for everyone on board besides Marshburn, enjoying his third flight.
They carry with them several scientific experiments. The 'Fiber Optic Production-2 (FOP-2)' experiment will study and aid in developing manufacturing processes of high-value optical fiber aboard the space station for commercial use. The 'rHEALTH ONE Microgravity Demonstration' focuses on the functionality and performance of flow cytometry control solutions. Flow cytometry can provide quick and accurate biological indicators related to disease, infection, or environmental exposure while in microgravity. The 'eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS)' investigation uses hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow plants without soil or other growth media. It monitors them throughout their entire life cycle. These experiments and several others are designed to expand our capability to pursue long-duration spaceflights to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
SpaceX DM-2 launch (Credit: Ryan Bale, SN)
On May 30, 2020, SpaceX launched its 'DM-2' mission. This demonstration flight carried two experienced NASA astronauts to the ISS and marked the first time humans have flown from United States soil since the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 8, 2011. The launch was a significant achievement because, for nearly ten years, the only ride off of the planet had been to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz at a dramatically fluctuating per-seat price tag from as low as USD 21.8 million in 2007 to $90 million in 2020.
The flight of 'Crew 3' marks the fifth time humans have flown on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in their Dragon Crew capsule, including the 'Inspiration4' mission earlier this year and two other NASA flights under their Commercial Crew Services contract. The booster for 'Crew 3' has previously flown for the CRS-22 mission, but the capsule will be a brand new vehicle. Named 'Endurance,' it is a nod to the long-standing human pursuit of new frontiers as well as the unwavering dedication of the development team throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
'Endurance' being integrated to its rocket, October 2021 (Credit: SpaceX)
NASA and SpaceX have completed their Flight Readiness Review, giving 'Crew 3' the "go" for launch. This intricate process checks the condition of every aspect of the rocket, capsule, pad facilities, crew, and even the ISS to prepare to execute the mission. During the flight of 'Inspiration4' this past September, four civilian travelers orbited the earth in a Dragon capsule for three days, which differs from previous Dragon missions as the destination was not the ISS. During their journey, an issue was revealed where the tube connecting the toilet to the waste tank was dislodged. Although the crew was not affected and safely completed their voyage, it did reveal a flaw for SpaceX to address. The solution is to weld the tube in place, and SpaceX completed this maintenance to Endurance without causing a delay for 'Crew 3'.
On October 27th, the fully integrated rocket rolled out to the Launch Pad 39A and went vertical that afternoon. In the early morning on October 28th, SpaceX successfully completed the "static fire" to test the rocket's engines while still attached to the launch stand. Still to come is the "dress rehearsal", where a simulated countdown takes place to prepare the entire support team and crew for the events of launch day. With these pieces in place, NASA is prepared to send four new astronauts to the International Space Station to continue a twenty-year legacy of constant habitation. SpaceX plans to launch roughly two crew rotations per year under the Commercial Crew Services contract, with 'Crew 4' currently scheduled for April 2022. In addition to their regular cadence of satellite launches, SpaceX plans to fly the 'Axiom-1' mission in February 2022, bringing a crew of private astronauts to the ISS for a 10-day visit.
Spaceflight News will be on site at Kennedy Space Center covering the events of 'Crew 3'. Follow us on our social media for live updates, see the newest photos, and to be the first to know when our gallery is released.