A SpaceX flight sending the next bunch of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) has been pushed back a few weeks after the Falcon 9 rocket to be used for the journey was damaged during transportation.
The SpaceX Crew-5 mission was due to launch at the start of September, but will not go ahead until September 29 at the earliest, NASA announced. The delay will give the Elon Musk corporation time to repair or replace the dinged hardware, and more time to install a new heat shield, parachutes, and pod panels on the reusable capsule that ferries the astronauts.
“A launch at the end of September will allow SpaceX to complete hardware processing and mission teams will continue to review the launch date based on the space station’s visiting spacecraft schedule,” the US space agency said in a statement. “Launch of Crew-5 now will take place after a scheduled Soyuz undocking and launch period from Sept 16-30.”
The Falcon 9 rocket was damaged when it was transported from SpaceX’s factory in Hawthorne, California, to its test facility in McGregor, Texas. X-ray inspections and as well as load and shock analysis confirmed only part of the rocket’s interstage was affected, and the rest of the vehicle is fine.
The decision comes just as Sandra Magnus, a member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel and former astronaut, recommended NASA only reuse SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and astronaut-ferrying Crew Dragon capsules up to five times each. The Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket of which the first stage, like the Dragon capsule, is reusable once recovered and refurbished.
“As both NASA and SpaceX have gained experience with working together and SpaceX has accumulated a flight history on both the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon capsule, NASA has been thinking carefully about reuse and their certification process for reuse,” she said during a panel meeting this week, SpaceNews reported. “As a result, NASA has determined they are comfortable with up to a five-time reuse for both the Falcon 9 and the Crew Dragon capsule,” she said.
For the Crew-5 mission, the space travelers will board SpaceX’s Dragon Endurance capsule, which has only been used once before for the Crew-3 mission. The capsule sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket; its first-stage booster is brand new.
Crew-5 is made up of four astronauts, including NASA’s Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos’ Anna Kikina. The first three of that group were originally meant to fly to the International Space Station in an earlier mission aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, but the spacecraft was grounded last year due to corrosion of its valves. Kikina will be the first cosmonaut to fly to the floating space lab in a SpaceX capsule.
NASA and Roscosmos recently signed an agreement to allocate seats to Russian cosmonauts on US spaceflights, in return for American astronauts to fly on Russia’s Soyuz to and from the ISS. ®