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Crew-2 Dragon mission successfully launches towards ISS
by Paul Hill
NASA has announced that astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon are now in orbit following an early morning launch and are headed for the International Space Station (ISS). This is the second time a SpaceX Crew Dragon craft is taking astronauts to the ISS.
The rocket, which launched at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is carrying NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Their time aboard the ISS will last six months while they perform various science experiments and ISS maintenance.
You can see the launch highlights and post-launch coverage in the video below:
Commenting on the launch, NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
The astronauts are set to autonomously dock at the ISS’ Harmony module nearly 24-hours after launch at 5:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday. The docking, hatch opening, and welcoming ceremony will be live-streamed on NASA’s website. Once aboard, there will be 11 astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS but four of them are set to depart back for Earth after a couple of days so it shouldn’t be too cramped up there.
NASA has delayed the Crew-2 Dragon mission to the ISS
by Paul Hill
Over the weekend when This Week in Rocket Launches #9 was published, it was planned that the Crew-2 Dragon mission carrying astronauts to the International Space Station would take place on Thursday, April 22. Due to unfavourable weather conditions along the flight path, NASA is now looking to launch the mission at 5:49 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 23.
According to the new schedule, the crew is scheduled to dock at the space station just under 24 hours after launch at 5:10 a.m. on Saturday, April 24. The mission will be carrying four astronauts, namely NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet. Once they arrive, the ISS will be host to a large crew of 11 people.
On Friday at 1:30 a.m. EDT, NASA Television will begin live launch coverage. This will be followed up at 7:30 a.m. with a press conference hosted by NASA’s Steve Jurczyk and Kathy Lueders, JAXA’s Hiroshi Sasaki, ESA’s Frank de Winne, and an unnamed representative from SpaceX.
The docking, hatch opening, and welcoming ceremony will also be streamed live on Saturday at 5:10 a.m., 7:15 a.m., and 7:45 a.m. respectively. To prepare for the stream, be sure to head over to the NASA TV website and save it as a bookmark ready for the launch.
NASA successfully flies Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
NASA/JPL-Caltech, Ingenuity's first black and white image during flight NASA has announced that it has successfully flown its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the Red Planet. The event is historical as it’s the first time that humans have performed a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The flight was controlled by the Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The aircraft first flew at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) but due to the data having to travel 178.9 million miles, the confirmation of the flight was not received until 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT).
Commenting on the news, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
According to NASA, the craft flew to a height of 3 meters, hovered for 30 seconds and then touched down on the surface with the total flight lasting just 39.1 seconds. While the agency has received some data already, it is still waiting for other portions to travel across the Deep Space Network. The Martian airfield from where Ingenuity took off has been named Wright Brothers Field by NASA tying today’s event to the Wright Brothers who flew the first aircraft here on Earth in 1903.
Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol (Martian day) of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window. NASA said it will continue to receive information on the test flight over the next three sols and then will decide how to conduct a second experimental test flight. It said that no more flights will be conducted before April 22 but it does hope to conduct several more over the craft’s lifetime.
TWIRL 9: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon to take astronauts to ISS, NASA to try Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
Background image by NASA This week is panning out to be quite dramatic with NASA set to test its Mars Helicopter and SpaceX taking astronauts to the ISS on its Crew Dragon spacecraft. In addition to those events, SpaceX is also expected to launch the Starship SN-15 mission which will see the firm attempt to land the craft following NASA’s decision to pick Starship as the human landing system for its missions to the Moon from 2024.
Monday, April 19
There are no rocket launches listed for Monday, however, Elon Musk did put out a tweet explaining that SpaceX is aiming to launch Starship SN-15 this week, therefore, Monday is the earliest time we will see the launch. This is the first Starship launch since NASA chose the vehicle for its human landing system on the Artemis missions so SpaceX should have a bit more motivation to get the landing right this time around.
While this series is called This Week in Rocket Launches, it’s probably worth mentioning that NASA is looking to fly the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from Monday at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT). Data from the autonomous flight will take time to get back to Earth and a live stream is due to start at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT). If the flight takes place, NASA will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT) to apprise us of how the mission went.
Tuesday, April 20
There’s only one event set for Tuesday and that is ExPace’s planned launch of the Kuaizhou KZ-1A with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28) aboard. We’ve spoken several times about this launch in older issues of TWIRL but briefly, this satellite will capture high-resolution full-colour images from 535 km and will work within the Jilin 1 constellation that’s already in orbit.
Thursday, April 22
Thursday will be one of the most interesting days of the week with SpaceX carrying out the Crew-2 Dragon mission which will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide to the international space station. This Dragon capsule is named Endeavour after the Space Shuttle and was the first of the dragon capsules to carry a crew.
Interestingly, the ISS only got new arrivals two weeks ago so when the four new astronauts arrive there will 11 people on-board which is the highest number that has ever been on the space station at once, though, it’s not the highest number of people that have been in space at one time. Luckily for those on board, four of the astronauts will be departing on the SpaceX Crew-1 on April 28 bringing the ISS crew size to 7.
Sunday, April 25
On Sunday there will be two missions. Roscosmos is looking to launch the Resurs-P 4 satellite from Baikonur atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket and OneWeb will have 36 of its satellites put into orbit by a Starsem-owned Soyuz 2.1b rocket. The Resurs-P satellite will conduct Earth observation for Russian government agencies while the OneWeb satellites will make up a constellation providing internet for people on Earth and flying in planes.
NASA chooses SpaceX to land next Americans on the Moon
by Paul Hill
NASA has awarded a $2.89 billion contract to SpaceX to continue developing a commercial human lander that will deliver the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. Under current plans, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will take astronauts to Lunar orbit where two of the up to four crew members would transfer to SpaceX’s human lander.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, said:
You’re probably already familiar with SpaceX’s human landing system, it’s the Starship which the firm has recently been smashing into the ground as it attempts to perfect the landing sequence. The latest Starship test is expected next week where it will hopefully achieve a landing with the newfound financial motivation from NASA.
For those wondering whether the private sector can meet the rigorous NASA requirements, the space agency has confirmed that SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts to ensure the lander design meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. The standards range from engineering, safety, health, and medical technical areas.
The first mission to the Moon's surface by NASA is its Artemis 3 mission which is expected in 2024 but it could still be delayed. Artemis 3 will be preceded by Artemis 1 expected in November 2021 and Artemis 2 planned for August 2023. Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed lunar orbital test flight while Artemis 2 will send a crewed mission to lunar orbit.
NASA has big plans for the Moon in this decade. It wants to carry out several lunar surface missions and build a space station in orbit around the Moon for easier access to the lunar surface.