NASA and SpaceX continue to review launch and return opportunities for the upcoming crew rotation flights to and from the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
Mission teams now are considering whether to return the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission from the space station ahead of launching the next crew rotation due to the associated weather considerations for both launch and recovery operations.
The earliest possible opportunity for Crew-2 undocking from the space station is at 1:05 p.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 7, to begin the return trip to Earth for splashdown off the coast of Florida. A back-up undocking opportunity also is available Monday, Nov. 8.
The earliest possible opportunity for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 launch is 9:51 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 8, if mission teams do not pursue Crew-2 return on Sunday, Nov. 7 or Monday. Nov. 8.
Mission teams will make a final decision on whether to prioritize Crew-3’s launch or Crew-2’s return in the coming days based on the likelihood of favorable conditions for a Crew Dragon splashdown or Crew Dragon launch. NASA and SpaceX also are reviewing the time needed between launch or return operations.
NASA and SpaceX are forgoing launch opportunities Saturday, Nov. 6 and Sunday, Nov. 7, due to unfavorable weather conditions. Weather officials with the 45th Weather Squadron forecast only a 40% chance of favorable launch weather on Saturday, Nov. 6, with the primary concerns revolving around liftoff winds, cumulus clouds, and surface electric field constraints. The down range weather also is not acceptable on Sunday, Nov. 7 due to risks associated with launch abort sites up the eastern seaboard.
Mission teams still are monitoring weather conditions for a launch attempt on Monday, Nov. 8. The primary operational concern is strong winds at the pad and unfavorable conditions down range.
“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.”
The agency continues to monitor a minor medical issue involving one of the Crew-3 astronauts, which is expected to be clear prior to launch.
The Crew-3 flight will carry NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander; Tom Marshburn, pilot; and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, to the space station for a six-month science mission, staying aboard until about late April 2022.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket are in good shape and will remain at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
The Crew-2 flight will return to Earth with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Crew 2’s Dragon undocking depends on a variety of factors, including vehicle readiness, recovery team readiness, weather, sea states, and other factors.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement. Additional analysis could allow the spacecraft to remain in orbit for longer, if necessary. Crew Dragon Endeavour remains healthy while currently docked to the space station.
Teams are reviewing all options for safely launching and returning crew members to continue the agency’s important work on the International Space Station. Updated Crew-3 launch and Crew-2 return timelines will be provided in the coming days.