When is the next spacex launch?
A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are prepared for the launch of the Crew-2 mission on launchpad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, April 19, 2021. EarthSkyWhere to watch tomorrow’s SpaceX-NASA Crew-2 launch
21 April, 2021 - 02:02pm
20 April, 2021 - 01:35pm
Liftoff is scheduled for Thursday, April 22.
That mission, called Crew-2, will blast off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:11 a.m. EST (1011 GMT) on Thursday morning (April 22) from NASA's historic Pad 39A and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the second flight of this particular Crew Dragon. The capsule, named "Endeavour," first carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the space station last year for the Demo-2 test flight.
It will also be the second flight for the first stage booster, which previously ferried the Crew-1 astronauts to the space station on Nov. 18, 2020. Strapped inside the Dragon will be four veteran crewmembers: NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon marks the third different space vehicle for both Hoshide and Kimbrough, as the duo followed in the footsteps of Crew-1 astronaut Soichi Noguchi of JAXA. (Noguchi became the first astronaut to fly in three different spacecraft — the space shuttle, the Soyuz, and now the Crew Dragon — when he launched in November 2020.)
Last week, NASA and SpaceX met for a flight readiness review to go over the spacecraft and launch vehicle to ensure both were certified and ready to fly later this week. The teams went through their checklists and only left one minor issue to work through prior to liftoff.
One of those issues was concerning how much liquid oxygen is loaded onto the launch vehicle. Falcon 9 relies on two components to fuel its trips to space: rocket-grade liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen.
According to Bill Gerstenmaier, current vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX (and former head of human spaceflight at NASA), said in a news conference last Thursday (April 15) that the teams detected a small discrepancy in the amount of liquid oxygen loaded into the launcher compared to the amount SpaceX had expected.
On Tuesday (April 20), Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight at SpaceX, said that the liquid oxygen issue had been resolved and that Falcon and Dragon passed two big tests over the weekend: a static fire test and a dress rehearsal with the crew. Both exercises were executed flawlessly and the mission received the green light to proceed with Thursday's early morning liftoff.
"It's a very exciting time, and we're looking forward to a successful mission," Reed said during a prelaunch news conference on Tuesday (April 20).
Forecasters at the 45th Space Wing's Weather Squadron are calling for an 80% favorable chance of liftoff in the predawn hours on Thursday. The only cause for concern at the launch site are liftoff winds. It's been very rainy here on the space coast in the days leading up to launch, but fortunately a high pressure system will be moving in on Wednesday, and that should clear out the storms, weather officer Brian Cisek said in Tuesday's news conference.
The team at the 45th Space Wing monitors a set of 10 weather constraints on launch day, plus any additional constraints set by the specific launch provider. These include electric field rules, thick cloud rules, and the potential for cumulus clouds, to name a few. But SpaceX also has its own set of constraints that deal with how much precipitation the rocket can fly through and things like upper-level winds.
But that's not all. SpaceX also has to monitor ocean conditions at the landing zone to make sure that the booster can safely land on the drone ship. If that wasn't complex enough, because there are astronauts on board this Dragon, NASA has its own conditions that take into consideration the weather at various abort points throughout Dragon's climb to orbit.
Crew Dragon is outfitted with a launch escape system that will push the spacecraft to safety in the unlikely event that something goes really wrong with the rocket as it's climbing toward space. All of these factors together make up the launch weather constraints for this and other commercial crew missions.
If all goes as planned, and the weather continues to look good, then we can look for a predawn liftoff on Thursday morning. Cisek says there is a backup opportunity on Friday morning and the weather looks equally as promising for it.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Elon Musk’s SpaceX is about to fly astronauts for a third time. But there is nothing routine about it.
20 April, 2021 - 12:56pm
“One of the hardest things to do is watch the person that you love launch into space,” she said in an interview. “It’s much harder than actually doing it yourself when you’re in the rocket. You have the training. You’re prepared for the mission. When you’re watching, you’re just a spectator. And no matter what happens, there’s nothing you can do to contribute to the situation.”
If all goes well, McArthur will be strapped into SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft along with the rest of the astronauts known as Crew-2 — NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, Thomas Pesquet of France and Akihiko Hoshide of Japan — for a launch to the International Space Station scheduled for 6:11 a.m. Thursday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The flight will be SpaceX’s third with astronauts aboard. Last May, it flew Behnken and NASA astronaut Doug Hurley in a short test flight to the station. Then, in November, it flew a regular crew of four for a full-duration mission of about six months, restoring regular transportation to the station from U.S. soil after the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.
That group of astronauts, known as Crew-1, is expected to overlap with Crew-2 on the space station for about a week before coming back to Earth in a return flight scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico on April 28.
That flight cadence stands in stark contrast with that of Boeing, the other company under contract with NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying astronauts to and from the space station. Boeing has not flown for nearly a year and a half, after its Starliner spacecraft suffered a software malfunction that made the spacecraft think it was 11 hours later in a test mission without any astronauts aboard than it actually was. The company was able to bring the spacecraft down safely and said it would repeat the test before flying a mission with astronauts.
The company recently said it would be ready to fly as early as May. But because of traffic on the space station and the availability of the launchpad it uses, Boeing does not expect the launch to occur until August or September. Still, it said in a statement that it “will be mission-ready in May should another launch opportunity arise.”
It is not clear when Boeing’s first flight with astronauts aboard will be.
SpaceX, meanwhile, is moving ahead with its launch schedule, which includes another flight with a crew later this year. For the flight Thursday, it is incorporating a key difference: The rocket and the spacecraft that will fly the crew have been flown before, marking the first time NASA has allowed SpaceX to reuse its hardware in a human spaceflight.
Instead of throwing away its rockets, as had been done in the space industry for years, SpaceX flies them back to Earth, where they land on ships at sea or on a landing pad near the launch site. SpaceX has been doing it for years now, perfecting a practice once thought impossible.
But it only recently convinced NASA that it should be allowed to use its boosters and spacecraft again with humans aboard.
SpaceX will use the same Falcon 9 rocket that flew the Crew-1 astronauts. It stands on Launchpad 39A not shiny white and new but bearing the sooty streaks from the previous launch. The Dragon spacecraft for the flight is the same one that Behnken and Hurley flew in their mission. McArthur will be sitting in the same seat Behnken occupied for his flight.
SpaceX’s goal is to get to something similar to airline-like efficiency, where rockets and spacecraft take off, land and fly again. But space presents all kinds of different challenges, particularly for the capsules, which come screaming back through Earth’s atmosphere, generating temperatures in the thousands of degrees. Then they splash into the ocean under parachutes, which poses its own problems.
“One of the things you have to worry about is water intrusion,” Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs, said during a recent press briefing. “Saltwater is very corrosive. It’s not a great thing when you want to keep your physical materials sound and especially easy to refurbish and to reuse.”
After the spacecraft, dubbed Endeavour, came back last year, SpaceX inspected it to make sure it was safe to fly again. The company replaced some parts, Reed said, and the thermal protection system and the parachutes for this coming flight will be new as well. “But otherwise, it’s really the same vehicle,” he said. “That’s very carefully inspected, carefully prepared, refurbished as needed and ready to fly.”
He added that NASA signs off on the vehicle and ensures that it is safe to fly. In the days and weeks leading up to the launch, officials from NASA and SpaceX repeatedly said that while this will be the third mission with people, the flight is by no means routine and the serious risks inherent in all human spaceflight remain.
“We’ve completed thousands and thousands of tests to get to this day,” Reed said.
The company has pored over the data and performed intensive reviews alongside NASA, always looking for the worst-case scenario, trying to find it in a spreadsheet or an engine-test stand before a flight.
“We call them paranoia reviews. We want to be paranoid,” Reed said. “We want to make sure that we’re going to fly these people safely and be able to bring them home safely when it’s time. So we check. We check under every rock. And we double-check and we triple-check and we ask each other and we challenge each other all the time.”
He said that he feels responsible not only for the astronauts but their families as well, and that he and the engineers kept McArthur’s 7-year-old son, Theo, in their minds when preparing for the mission.
“In particular in my heart, there’s a little boy out there whose mom is flying,” Reed said. “This is something that we pay a lot of attention to. We ask ourselves all the time: Would we be willing to fly our families on these vehicles? That’s kind of a test for us.”
Before Behnken’s flight last year, he and McArthur took their son to Cape Canaveral for a launch so he could see the rocket take off and give him a sense of what his parents were about to do. He was excited for the flight and thrilled when Behnken returned home safely from the mission — in part because his parents had promised him a puppy once the flight was over.
Now he’s looking forward to another flight. But the splashdown will be better than the liftoff.
“I think he’ll mostly be thrilled when I come home again,” McArthur said. “That would be the best part for him.”
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