Four astronauts from the US and Europe are heading to the International Space Station after the launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft on April 27, less than two days after the return of another spacecraft from the station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A at 3:52 AM EDT and launched the Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft into orbit in 12 minutes. The first stage of the missile, which launched three previous missions, including Crew-3, landed on an unmanned drone in the Atlantic.
The commander of the Crew-4 mission is NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, and the pilot is Robert Hines. NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti are experts on the mission. The docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft with the ISS is scheduled for 8:15 PM EDT, a little more than 16 hours after launch.
Freedom will use the same ISS docking port that was released a few days earlier by another Crew Dragon spacecraft, Endeavor, which spent more than two weeks at the station as part of the AX-1 private astronaut mission. The ship docked on April 24 and landed off the coast of Florida on April 25, less than 39 hours before the launch of Crew-4.
NASA and SpaceX said the short time between the launch of the AX-1 and the launch of Crew-4 was not a problem. “Engineers have been studying the data for the past 18 hours,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, at a pre-launch briefing on April 26 on the results of the return of the AX-1 mission. “In general, it was a clean flight. No serious problems.”
NASA plans a five-day transfer of duties between the new Crew-4 astronauts and Crew-3 astronauts leaving the station, who have been at the station since November 2021. These four astronauts – Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer from ESA – will leave in early May on the spacecraft Crew Dragon Endurance.
Crew-4 astronauts will remain on the ISS until September. The Crew-5 mission, which will use the same Endurance spacecraft as the Crew-3 mission, will start the same month, and the Crew-4 is expected to return in mid-September, shortly before the launch of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. Crew-5 and the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft could exchange an American astronaut and a Russian astronaut if an agreement is reached by June.
After the arrival of Crew-4, the schedule will continue with the second test flight without a crew of Boeing’s commercial ship CST-100 Starliner, scheduled for May 19. In June, it will be followed by the flight of the cargo ship SpaceX Dragon to the station. These flights may need to be bypassed by new attempts to rehearse the Space Launch System.
- SpaceX is preparing to launch two more missions
- SpaceX to launch South Korea’s first independent reconnaissance satellite