Expedition 64 crew members Sergei Ryzhikov, Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins must wait a little longer before their International Space Station (ISS) increment expands to full, seven-person strength, following NASA’s announcement Monday that it is targeting no sooner than Saturday, 14 November for the launch of Dragon Resilience and Crew-1.
Under the new plan, NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, together with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) veteran Soichi Noguchi, will launch from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida no sooner than 7:49 p.m. EST that evening, promising to turn night into day across the Space Coast.
Although they only started working together as a four-member unit earlier this spring, the two senior members of Crew-1—Hopkins and Glover, serving as Commander and Pilot—were assigned to this mission amid great fanfare in August 2018. They were joined in March 2020 by Mission Specialists Walker and Noguchi.
All but Glover have flown into space before, with Hopkins having logged 166 days as a member of Expedition 37/38 from September 2013 through March 2014 and Walker spent 163 days on Expedition 24/25 from June-November 2010. But the Crew-1’s most seasoned member is Noguchi, whose experience totals 177 days across his Expedition 22/23 increment between December 2009 and June 2010 and his previous duty aboard Discovery on STS-114 in July 2005, the first post-Columbia shuttle flight. Between them, they have over 500 cumulative days in space and more than 33 hours of spacewalking experience.
Crew-1 will mark the second voyage of a Crew Dragon with astronauts aboard, following the highly-successful Demo-2 mission by Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, earlier this summer. They launched aboard Dragon Endeavour atop a brand-new Falcon 9 on 30 May and spent 64 days in orbit as adjunct members of the Expedition 63 crew, supported dozens of research experiments and four sessions of Extravehicular Activity (EVA), before returning safely to Earth—and executing the United States’ first oceanic splashdown since Apollo-Soyuz—on 2 August.
But when Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi set off on 14 November, theirs will be the first Post-Certification Mission (PCM), the first “operational” crew rotation of astronauts to the ISS and is expected to run for six months.
At the time of Hurley and Behnken’s return from Demo-2, it was expected that Crew-1 would fly in the late September timeframe, but this was moved to No Earlier Than (NET) 23 October in response to an anticipated full plate of visiting-vehicle traffic at the ISS with the arrival of Northrop Grumman Corp.’s NG-14 Cygnus, the launch and docking of Soyuz MS-17 and the return of Expedition 63 crewmen Chris Cassidy, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner after six months in orbit. A further slip pushed this NET date back to 31 October to ensure a smooth period of time for teams to oversee the return of Expedition 63 and bring Expedition 64 up to speed.
In the meantime, the Crew-1 spacecraft, which Hopkins and his team have named “Resilience” in what appears to be a growing tradition for Commercial Crew vehicles, arrived in Florida from SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne, Calif., back in August for pre-launch processing. The brand-new B1061 Falcon 9 core for the mission was static-fired at the firm’s McGregor test site in Texas in April, as was the rocket’s second stage, before both were transported to the Space Coast.
But the likelihood of Crew-1 making a Halloween launch to the space station dimmed following the dramatic abort of another Falcon 9 booster on 2 October, only a couple of seconds prior to liftoff. SpaceX founder Elon Musk later attributed the cause of the abort to an “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator”.
As investigators dug into the issue, on 10 October NASA and SpaceX announced that the Crew-1 launch was postponed until early-to-mid November at the soonest. It was noted that the delay affords “additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of the Falcon 9 first-stage gas generators”. In parallel developments, Dragon Resilience progressed well through its pre-launch processing, with the spacecraft secured to its unpressurized “trunk” on 2 October.
The NET date of 14 November was selected to occur a few days after the launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean-monitoring spacecraft, which is presently targeted to ride another Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on 10 November. A recent article by AmericaSpace’s Mike Killian dug deeper into this mission’s important contributions to our understanding of the rise of global sea-levels, together with weather and ocean circulation and climatic variability manifested through such phenomena as El Niño and La Niña.
Assuming an on-time launch, Dragon Resilience’s journey time is unconfirmed at present. A 31 October start was expected to produce a 25-hour and 17-orbit rendezvous and it remains to be seen if a shorter approach profile will be attempted. In any case, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi will dock at the International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2 interface, on the forward “end” of the Harmony node, to be serenaded aboard the sprawling orbital outpost by incumbent Expedition 64 crew members Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins, who will have been in space for a month at that point.
This will begin a new era in which (it is hoped) the ISS will boast a permanent crew of seven members from the United States, Russia and one or more of the International Partners.
And it promises to be a busy mission. During their six months aloft, Expedition 64 is expected to welcome no less than seven visiting vehicles, including two flights—CRS-21 and CRS-22—by SpaceX’s new Cargo Dragon in December and March, a pair of Russian Progress cargo ships in the first quarter of 2021, Northrop Grumman’s NG-15 Cygnus in February, the long-awaited second uncrewed test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, just after New Year, and the crewed Soyuz MS-18 in April. Up to five EVAs are planned, including two by Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov in November and February, and possibly three U.S. spacewalks later in the fall.
The Russian EVAs are tasked with preparing for the new Nauka (“Science”) research lab and the planned disposal of the long-serving Pirs (“Pier”) module, which has been an integral part of the space station since September 2001. As such, it will become the first long-serving, permanent component of the ISS to be decommissioned and deorbited. Currently located on the nadir side of the Zvezda module, the departure of Pirs will open up a docking port for the arrival of Nauka, possibly as soon as next April.
Although names have not been announced for who will perform the U.S. EVAs, there will certainly be no shortage of experience, with Rubins and Hopkins having both performed two spacewalks apiece on their first missions and Noguchi having logged three during his STS-114 flight. Key objectives include the installation of the Columbus Ka-Band Antenna (COL-Ka) and activation of the Bartolomeo payloads-anchoring platform on Europe’s Columbus lab—delivered to the station aboard SpaceX’s CRS-20 Dragon last March—together with the installation of a new lithium-ion battery on the P-4 truss segment, which blew a fuse last year.