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Crew-2 arrives at ISS

ISS crew

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station April 24, less than 24 hours after its launch from Florida, giving the station its largest crew in a decade.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center April 23, docked with the station’s Harmony module at 5:08 a.m. Eastern. The four Crew-2 astronauts joined their seven colleagues on the station about two and a half hours later.

Endeavour, which also flew the Demo-2 mission to the station last summer, had a largely trouble-free flight to the ISS. The only issue was external to the spacecraft: controllers asked the crew to get back into their suits and close their visors several hours after launch as a precaution when a piece of space debris was projected to pass close to the spacecraft. The debris passed the spacecraft around 1:45 p.m. Eastern April 23 without incident, and the Crew Dragon did not maneuver to avoid the object, which NASA did not identify.

“It is awesome to see the 11 of you on station,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA acting administrator, said in a brief ceremony shortly after the hatches opened. “I’m really excited this for this new era for ISS.”

With the arrival of Crew-2, the station has 11 people on board for the first time since the STS-134 shuttle mission in May 2011, when the five people on that mission joined the six people on the station who arrived on two Soyuz spacecraft. Here, two Crew Dragon spacecraft transported eight astronauts to the station while a Soyuz transported the other three.

“There’s a number of things you have to do” to support that additional crew, said Joel Montalbano, NASA ISS program manager, at an April 20 briefing about the Crew-2 mission. That includes additional consumables and increasing the capability of the station’s life support systems, as well as temporary sleeping arrangements for the additional astronauts.

That expanded crew size is temporary, as the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft will return the four Crew-1 astronauts to Earth on April 28. The spacecraft will undock at 7:05 a.m. Eastern and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico south of Tallahassee, Florida, at 12:40 p.m. Eastern.


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Downrange weather delays Crew-2 launch

Crew-2 on pad

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA has delayed the scheduled April 22 launch of the Crew-2 commercial crew mission by a day because of weather not at the launch site but at potential abort locations in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA announced early April 21 that the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft had been rescheduled for April 23 at 5:49 a.m. Eastern. A launch at that time would allow the spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station at about 5:10 a.m. Eastern April 24.

While weather conditions are favorable at the launch site here for an April 22 launch, agency officials said their decision was based on forecasts of high winds and high waves at locations in the Atlantic where the spacecraft would splash down in the event of an abort during launch.

“Although the weather is probably going to look great here at the launch site, we’re worried about those downrange winds and wave heights in case of an abort,” Bob Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center, said in remarks at a media event here shortly after the agency announced the delay.

NASA warned at a briefing April 20 of the risk of a delay because of abort conditions, while forecasting good weather at KSC. Forecasts call for a 90% chance of acceptable weather for the April 23 launch opportunity.

NASA and the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, which is responsible for launch forecasts at KSC and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, provide detailed weather forecasts for launches. However, they provide far less information about abort weather conditions. For example, while noting high winds and wave heights, NASA didn’t elaborate on the specific conditions in the abort region, which stretches off the coast from Florida to Newfoundland, with another abort location across the Atlantic near Shannon, Ireland.

That abort weather introduces a complication in launch planning not seen since the end of the shuttle program, whose launches required good weather at selected airports in Europe and Africa that served as transatlantic abort locations. “Unlike a robotic mission, where we really need to just focus on weather here at the launch site, for a crewed mission we need to look downrange and make sure weather is good for a potential launch escape and recovery of the crew,” said Steve Jurczyk, NASA acting administrator, at the KSC media event.

“Weather looks better on Friday” April 23, he added.

Jurczyk added that the one-day delay in the arrival of the Crew-2 mission won’t affect the departure of the Crew-1 mission currently at the station. That Crew Dragon spacecraft will undock from the ISS at 7:05 a.m. April 28 and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast at 12:40 p.m. Eastern that day.

Should the Crew-2 mission be delayed again, the next launch opportunity will be April 26. Forecasts for launch weather are a little less favorable, with a 70% chance of acceptable weather on April 26 and 27.


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NASA completes launch readiness review for Crew-2 mission

Crew-2 on pad

WASHINGTON — The next commercial crew mission to the International Space Station passed its final review before its scheduled April 22 launch, with weather the only major issue.

At an April 20 briefing, NASA said the Crew-2 mission passed its launch readiness review, the final major review before launch. That allows NASA and SpaceX to proceed with a Falcon 9 launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour at 6:11 a.m. Eastern April 22 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The launch has an instantaneous window.

Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, said officials resolved the one technical issue remaining from the Crew-2 flight readiness review April 15. At that earlier review, SpaceX noted that on a number of recent Falcon 9 launches it loaded slightly more liquid oxygen (LOX) propellant than expected into the rocket’s first stage.

Stich said a technical review concluded that any additional liquid oxygen was “well within family” of analyses of the rocket, including additional loads on the rocket that the excess propellant might create. “We had an exception at the flight readiness review, and we closed that,” he said. He latest estimated that the additional liquid oxygen only accounted for “a very small percentage” of the total weight of the vehicle.

The Falcon 9 also performed a successful static-fire test April 17, followed a day later by a “dry dress rehearsal” where the four astronauts suited up, went to the pad and boarded the Crew Dragon for a practice countdown, although the vehicle itself was not fueled. “The crew is doing great. They’re really excited,” said Norm Knight, deputy manager of the flight operations directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The only outstanding issue discussed at the briefing is the weather. Brian Cizek, launch weather officer with the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, projected an 80% chance of acceptable weather for launch April 22, and 90% if the launch is delayed a day. Winds are the primary concern for the first launch attempt.

However, those probabilities do not include weather at abort locations along the Eastern Seaboard. “Downrange weather is a little bit trickier,” Stich said, citing high winds and high waves in some of the abort locations. “Of the two days right now, I would say Friday looks a little bit better than Thursday.” He said NASA and SpaceX will evaluate the weather again 24 hours before the launch.

If the Crew-2 mission does launch on schedule April 22, the spacecraft will dock with the station at about 5:30 a.m. Eastern April 23. The four people on the spacecraft — NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut  Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet — will join the seven people currently on the station.

The station’s crew will be at 11 people through the departure of the Crew-1 spacecraft April 28, returning NASA’s Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi to Earth. That will require some adjustments to the station’s life support systems and temporary sleeping accommodations, said Joel Montalbano, NASA ISS program manager.

“The cool thing again is that the added crew member allows another set of hands on board to help us with research and utilization,” he said, referring to commercial crew’s ability to allow the station to host seven people at a time. “It’s an awesome time to be in human spaceflight.”


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NASA approves plans for Crew-2 launch

Crew Dragon

WASHINGTON — NASA managers approved plans to launch a SpaceX commercial crew mission to the International Space Station next week, pending the resolution of one minor issue with the Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA officials said April 15 that, after the completion of a flight readiness review, they approved plans for the launch April 22 of the Crew-2 mission, which will transport American, European and Japanese astronauts to the station on a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“The flight readiness review was very successful. We only had one exception, which needs to be cleared up in the next few days,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, during a press conference after the review.

That exception involves an issue with loading liquid oxygen into the first stage of the Falcon 9 that results in more liquid oxygen being in the tank than expected. The error is relatively small: Bill Gerstenmaier, the longtime NASA official who is now a vice president for SpaceX, said the level of liquid oxygen in the tank was no more than about 10 centimeters higher than expected.

He said SpaceX discovered it during testing of a Falcon 9 first stage at the company’s McGregor, Texas, facility, when weather interrupted the usual loading process. “That gave us some insight that we don’t typically get, and we got to see that the amount of oxidizer that we had loaded into the tank was a little bit different than what we had analyzed it to be,” he said.

SpaceX will take the time to analyze the loading error, which Gerstenmaier said was common to all Falcon 9 rockets, to ensure the safety of the upcoming crewed launch. “I think in a normal program, this amount of difference wouldn’t matter to anyone, but in our world, we’re going to take the extra step and go review it, look at the consequences and what happens worst-case,” he said.

If that issue is resolved, SpaceX will go ahead with a static-fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage early April 17 at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The launch is scheduled for 6:11 a.m. Eastern April 22, with a backup launch date a day later. If the mission is delayed beyond April 23, the next opportunity to launch would be April 26.

Other preparations for the launch are proceeding normally. The astronauts that will fly the Crew-2 mission — NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, ESA’s Thomas Pesquet and JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide — will arrive at KSC April 16 and go through a “dry dress rehearsal” of launch preparations two days later.

They will fly both a spacecraft and rocket that have been used before. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, called Endeavour, launched on the Demo-2 mission in May 2020, the first crewed Crew Dragon mission, while the Falcon 9 first stage previously launched the Crew-1 mission in November 2020.

“We had to do an extensive amount of work” to confirm both the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 booster were safe for reuse on a crewed mission, said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program. That also evaluated a number of upgrades to the vehicle, such as an improved battery system and changes to the abort thrusters that allow them to use more propellant and thus improve their performance.

“It was a series of upgrades to improve safety,” he said, “and having to make sure the structures, the component lifetimes were all within the certification and the qualification of those components.”

If Crew-2 does launch April 22, it will dock with the ISS at about 5:30 a.m. Eastern April 23. The Crew-1 spacecraft currently at the station would depart the station on the morning of April 28, splashing down at 12:40 p.m. Eastern that day in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast from Tallahassee, Florida.

Stich said NASA was working with the U.S. Coast Guard to prevent a repeat of the Crew-1 splashdown in August 2020, when dozens of private boaters swarmed the capsule after splashdown. More Coast Guard vessels will patrol the splashdown zone to keep other ships at a safe distance. “We don’t anticipate having that problem again.”


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Crew-2 on schedule for April launch while next Starliner flight delayed

Crew-2 simluator

WASHINGTON — NASA officials said March 1 that the next SpaceX commercial crew mission to the International Space Station remains on schedule for late April, but that a Boeing uncrewed test flight is facing further delays.

The Crew-2 mission, a flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to the station, remains on track for a launch no earlier than April 20, agency officials said at a briefing.

The actual launch date may shift by a few days “to more optimize some of the orbital mechanics and the launch opportunities,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program. The agency is trying to fit the mission in during a window between the mid-April departure of the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft and a “beta cutout” in May when sun angles restrict ISS activities.

That schedule also has to accommodate the return of the Crew-1 mission on the Crew Dragon currently docked to the station. Stich said the goal is to have that spacecraft return to Earth by May 9 to avoid “dark landing opportunities” for the spacecraft’s splashdown.

Neither NASA nor SpaceX see any major challenges to launching in late April, even after the shutdown of a Merlin engine on a Feb. 15 Falcon 9 launch that prevented the booster from landing. “Everybody is on track and ready for an April 20 launch readiness date,” Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said at the briefing.

The Crew-2 mission will be the third Crew Dragon flight to carry astronauts, but the first such spacecraft to be reused. The Crew Dragon capsule for Crew-2 previously flew the Demo-2 mission last year, and workers have spent the last several months refurbishing it for the upcoming flight.

SpaceX has been working with NASA on the refurbishment process, determining what components need to be replaced to ensure crew safety and what can be kept. “I can happily say that the vast majority of the vehicle is flight-proven,” Reed said. Some valves and parts of the thermal protection system are being changed, he said, along with parachutes that are replaced after every flight. “Otherwise, it’s really the same vehicle that’s very carefully inspected, carefully prepared and refurbished as needed, and ready to fly.”

SpaceX has also “beefed up” the structure of the spacecraft to improve the acceptable wind speeds and wave heights for splashdown, thus expanding the landing opportunities. “This is one of the most important updates that we’ve done on this Dragon,” he said.

Stich added the spacecraft has improved pad abort performance in the form of additional propellant for the SuperDraco thrusters, which also improves launch constraints by allowing launches when there are stronger onshore winds. “I really look at this flight as an abort enhancement flight,” he said.

Starliner delay

The Crew-2 mission was scheduled to be the third crew-capable spacecraft to visit the ISS in April. It will be preceded by the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft, set for launch April 9.

NASA had scheduled the launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle on the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission for April 2. That mission will be a reflight of the original, flawed OFT mission in December 2019 that was unable to dock with the station because of software problems.

It’s now unlikely, though, that the mission, recently delayed from late March, will be ready to launch in early April. “We are going to move off of 4/2,” Stich said. Preparations for the mission are about two weeks behind schedule, he said, in part because of winter weather and associated power outages in the Houston area that delayed software testing for the spacecraft by a week.

It’s unclear when the OFT-2 can take place because of the upcoming Soyuz and Crew-2 missions, and then availability on the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral for the Atlas 5 launch of the mission. “It’s a very busy timeframe on the space station,” Stich said. “And then it’s a busy time on the range, so we’re working hand-in-hand with Boeing to figure out when that launch date will be. We’ll have to stand by for further developments on exactly when that flight will fly.”


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Safety panel concerned about quality control on Boeing crew capsule

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft that flew on the Orbital Flight Test mission is pictured last November outside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

Members of NASA’s independent panel of aerospace safety advisors raised concerns last week about quality control problems that “seemingly have plagued” Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program, while urging NASA to closely monitor SpaceX’s plans to reuse Crew Dragon spaceships on astronaut flights to the International Space Station.

An unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in December ended prematurely after a programming error in the capsule’s mission elapsed timer caused the ship to burn too much fuel shortly after separating from its Atlas 5 rocket.

The unexpected fuel consumption left the Starliner capsule with insufficient propellant to complete its flight to the space station.

The Starliner landed safely in New Mexico two days later, but ground teams identified another software problem in a propulsion controller governing thrusters on the spacecraft’s service module, which jettisons from the Starliner crew module before re-entry into the atmosphere. Mission control uplinked a software patch shortly before re-entry, eliminating a risk that the mis-configured propulsion controller could have caused the jettisoned service module to ram into the crew module after separation.

There were also problems with the Starliner’s communications system during the unpiloted demonstration mission, known as the Orbital Flight Test, or OFT.

An independent review team that investigated the problems during the OFT mission issued 80 recommendations for Boeing and NASA engineers to address software issues, the communications problem, and management oversight shortfalls in oversight that contributed to the problems on last year’s test flight.

Donald McErlean, a seasoned aerospace industry consultant and member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said July 23 that Boeing is making progress toward resolving the technical problems. Boeing plans to fly a second, previously-unplanned Starliner Orbital Flight Test to the space station late this year, followed by a Crew Flight Test in the first half of 2021 with a three-person team of astronauts on-board.

“However, despite this progress, which is definite and in fact measurable, the panel continues to be concerned about quality control problems that seemingly have plagued the Boeing commercial crew program,” said McErlean, a former chief engineer for the U.S. Navy’s aviation programs.

Boeing performed a pad abort test of a Starliner crew capsule last November, the month before the Orbital Flight Test. One of the capsule’s three main parachutes did not deploy after an otherwise-successful test of the spacecraft’s abort engines, and Boeing traced that problem to a missing pin in the parachute’s rigging.

“We realize that the CCP (Commercial Crew Program) has been working with the safety and engineering communities to address these issues, but this is still an issue that the panel will continue to watch closely as OFT and later CFT are conducted,” McErlean said.

The panel recommended NASA’s Commercial Crew Program “maintain a balance” between setting and achieving schedule milestones and ensuring managers make appropriate technical decisions, according to McErlean.

Boeing developed the Starliner spacecraft under contract to NASA, which is seeking to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz crew capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. NASA awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX received a $2.6 billion deal in 2014 to complete development of the Starliner and Crew Dragon spaceships.

The public-private partnerships were designed to end U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transportation to and from the space station.

While Boeing still has at least two Starliner test flights — one without crew members and one with astronauts — before the capsule is declared operational, SpaceX is nearing the end of the Crew Dragon development program. The human-rated capsule launched with astronauts for the first time May 30 on the Demo-2 mission, and delivered NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station the next day.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on May 31 with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on-board. Credit: NASA

Hurley and Behnken are scheduled to depart the station Aug. 1 and splash down off the Florida coast Aug. 2, completing a mission spanning more than two months. Once the Crew Dragon is back on Earth, SpaceX and NASA engineers plan to formally certify the SpaceX crew capsule for regular crew rotation missions to the space station, beginning with a launch as soon as late September from the Kennedy Space Center carrying four astronauts to the orbiting research complex for a six-month expedition.

The mission scheduled for launch in late September — known as Crew-1 — will be followed by at least five more operational Crew Dragon missions through 2024.

NASA last month said it will allow SpaceX to reuse Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 boosters for NASA astronaut missions. NASA says SpaceX could begin reusing Crew Dragon vehicles and Falcon 9 first stages on crewed launches beginning with the second post-certification mission, or Crew-2.

The Crew-2 launch is scheduled in February 2021. The Crew-1 mission — SpaceX’s first operational astronaut flight — is slated to fly with a brand new Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.

Each of SpaceX’s operational crew rotation flights to the space station will carry up to four astronauts, including space fliers from NASA and the space station’s international partners.

NASA has assigned astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker to the Crew-1 mission. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will join the U.S. astronauts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“You are seeing the beginning of the rotational use of the commercial crew systems in transporting our astronauts to the ISS,” McErlean said.

In the safety panel’s July 23 public meeting, McErlean said SpaceX currently plans to refurbish and reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft that is flying on the Demo-2 mission on the Crew-2 mission next year. That crew capsule was named Dragon Endeavour by Hurley and Behnken soon after their launch in May.

SpaceX also aims to reuse the Falcon 9 rocket booster assigned to the Crew-1 mission again on the Crew-2 launch next year, McErlean said.

“So in this case, Crew-2 will be fully utilizing the SpaceX reuse philosophy,” McErlean said. “Although reuse has been successful in prior launches, the use of previously-flown hardware for a human spaceflight mission is unique, and it will create some additional work for NASA, who must address the human certification requirements.”

Boeing also plans to reuse Starliner crew capsules on multiple flights. Unlike the Crew Dragon, which splashes down at sea, the Starliner parachutes to an airbag-cushioned touchdown on land.

McErlean, speaking for the safety advisory panel, said NASA must also keep up with SpaceX’s philosophy of “constantly evolving vehicle designs” with an “ongoing formal safety-related process” to ensure the modifications remain within the agency’s human-rating certification requirements.

“With the completion of the Demo-2 mission and appropriate vehicle changes driven by the data gathered during that mission, NASA will have a essentially concluded the required certification process for flying NASA personnel on SpaceX hardware,” McErlean said. “However, it is the panel’s opinion that given the SpaceX approach to hardware upgrades, NASA has to decide by what processes it will continue to monitor vehicle and system changes to ensure that those changes still remain within an appropriately certified safety posture for human spaceflight operations.”

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NASA agrees to fly astronauts on reused Crew Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on May 31 with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on-board. Credit: NASA

NASA has agreed to allow its astronauts to fly on reused Crew Dragon spaceships and Falcon 9 boosters beginning as soon as SpaceX’s third launch of a crew to the International Space Station, a mission expected to launch next year.

The space agency has modified its $2.7 billion commercial crew contract with SpaceX to permit reuse of spacecraft and rocket hardware. NASA had not previously approved the use of previously-flown spacecraft and rockets on missions carrying the agency’s astronauts into orbit.

In a disclosure dated May 15 and posted on a federal government procurement website, NASA said the contract modification allows for the extension of the Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 test flight — which launched May 30 with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — from two weeks to up to 119 days.

The launch of Hurley and Behnken on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the first time astronauts have launched into orbit from U.S. soil since the final space shuttle flight took off July 8, 2011.

The two-man crew docked May 31 at the International Space Station, where they will support operations on the orbiting research complex for several months. NASA officials say the Demo-2 test flight is likely to conclude with a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean in August.

Once Hurley and Behnken are back on Earth, NASA engineers will review data from the Crew Dragon test flight before formally certifying the SpaceX crew capsule design for operational crew rotation missions to and from the space station.

SpaceX is under contract to fly six of these “post-certification missions” through the mid-2020s.

The contract modification announced by NASA also requires SpaceX to participate in additional joint test training with search and rescue teams from the U.S. military, which would deploy from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida and other locations to retrieve astronauts in the event of an emergency abort during launch.

SpaceX, NASA and the military search and rescue teams conducted joint training exercises leading up to the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch. Those training sessions will continue before all the next six Crew Dragon missions under contract to NASA.

In exchange for the new NASA requirements, the space agency will allow SpaceX to reuse Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 boosters for NASA astronaut missions. NASA says SpaceX could begin reusing Crew Dragon vehicles and Falcon 9 first stages on crewed launches beginning with the second post-certification mission, or Crew-2.

The Crew-2 launch is scheduled in 2021. The Crew-1 mission — SpaceX’s first operational astronaut flight — is slated to fly with a brand new Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.

“Consistent with the public-private partnership strategy for the Commercial Crew Program, NASA specifies ‘what’ safety requirements must be met, and industry is free to propose ‘how’ to meet those requirements,” wrote Josh Finch, a NASA spokesperson, in an emailed response to questions from Spaceflight Now.

“In this case, SpaceX has proposed to reuse future Falcon 9 and/or Crew Dragon systems or components for NASA missions to the International Space Station because they believe it will be beneficial from a safety and/or cost standpoint,” Finch wrote. “NASA performed an in-depth review and determined that the terms of the overall contract modification were in the best interests of the government.”

According to Finch, SpaceX will propose a reuse plan for future crew missions, beginning as early as the Crew-2 flight. He wrote that a specific plan has not been developed yet to proposed which Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 boosters might be reused for the Crew-2 mission and subsequent flights.

“Also, NASA will need to approve that plan after it is proposed by SpaceX,” Finch wrote.

The modification to SpaceX’s commercial crew contract, which was originally signed with NASA in 2014, includes no exchange of funds, according to Finch.

Each of SpaceX’s operational crew rotation flights to the space station will carry up to four astronauts, including space fliers from NASA and the space station’s international partners.

NASA has assigned astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker to the Crew-1 mission. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will join the U.S. astronauts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The launch date most recently announced for the Crew-1 flight was Aug. 30, but that could be pushed back to September if the Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 test flight comes back to Earth in August. NASA is expected to take one-to-two months to review data from the Crew Dragon test flight before giving the green light for SpaceX’s first operational launch with astronauts.

SpaceX has reused Falcon 9 first stages on 37 missions — with a perfect success record — since launching the first previously-flown Falcon booster in 2017. SpaceX also reused Dragon cargo capsules up to three times on resupply missions to the space station.

The first version of SpaceX’s Dragon supply freighter has been retired, and SpaceX plans to fly a cargo variant of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for future logistics missions to the space station. SpaceX also refers to the new generation of space station servicing vehicles as Dragon 2, with crew and cargo configurations.

The human-rated Dragon includes seats, crew displays, life support systems and SuperDraco abort engines, which would be activated to push the capsule away from its rocket if it fails during launch. The SuperDracos will not fly on Dragon capsules configured for cargo missions.

NASA previously approved plans to reuse the Dragon 2 vehicles for cargo delivery flights to the space station. SpaceX says the Dragon 2 cargo capsules can fly to the space station and back up to five times, an improvement

Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which is also designed to carry astronauts, will also be reused on crew missions to the space station. The Starliner lands under parachutes on land.

Boeing has manufactured two Starliner spacecraft for its missions to and from the International Space Station.

But an unpiloted Starliner test flight in December failed to reach the International Space Station due to a misconfigured mission elapsed timer, which caused the spacecraft to burn too much fuel after it separated from its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Engineers traced the problem to a software programming error, and the Starliner spacecraft aborted its mission to the space station and safely returned to Earth.

Boeing plans a second Starliner test flight without astronauts later this year. If that goes well, the Starliner could be ready to carry a crew to the space station on a demonstration mission in the spring of 2021, before kicking off six operational crew rotation flights under contract to NASA.

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