SpaceX’s Crew Dragon performing ‘superbly’ on ISS as NASA eyes a backup journey

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut taxi is doing “superbly” up to now in its first operational, long-duration keep on the Worldwide Area Station, NASA’s human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders advised The Verge. The capsule, named Resilience, despatched three NASA astronauts and a Japanese astronaut to the station final November, and a trivial housekeeping job is the one surprising hiccup confronted by the crew.

“We’ve been very, very pleased with how issues are going,” Lueders mentioned in an interview. “The one minor factor we had was we’re getting some little bits of lint on the seal” the place Crew Dragon connects to the ISS, she added. Astronauts have been floating out and in of the spacecraft for months, abandoning a buildup of lint and dirt.

SpaceX launched the Crew-1 mission on November fifteenth carrying Commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese astronaut. The mission marked SpaceX’s first totally operational mission underneath its NASA contract after nailing its ultimate check milestone final summer time with the launch and return of two US astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

Some additional mud is certainly not the worst drawback NASA and SpaceX might face on a $100 billion orbital laboratory that has housed astronauts in low Earth orbit for over 20 years. “I can deal with having housekeeping points,” Lueders mentioned. Astronauts have been utilizing a vacuum to suck out all of the lint, however for a longer-term repair to the pileup, a tiny cowl was trucked to the station on the NS15 cargo resupply mission, launched Saturday by Northrop Grumman.

NASA and SpaceX have been intently monitoring Crew Dragon’s well being in house because it tallies 98 days docked to the ISS — the longest length for a human-rated US spacecraft. Maybe most intimately conversant in the capsule is Hopkins, who’s been utilizing Crew Dragon as his bunking quarters whereas others sleep elsewhere on the station. (Lueders made clear that Hopkins wasn’t solely responsible for all of the mud — “don’t make me get in bother with Mike Hopkins, Joey!”)

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft is seen docked to the Worldwide Area Station’s Concord module.
Picture: NASA / Johnson Area Middle

SpaceX’s subsequent mission, Crew-2, is slated for April twentieth, reusing the capsule that flew Behnken and Hurley for the DM-2 mission. NASA determined to permit SpaceX to reuse its capsules for astronaut flights final 12 months, setting the stage for a rigorous refurbishment and certification course of for SpaceX. It’s much like what the company will undergo with Boeing’s Starliner, Crew Dragon’s rival capsule that’s nonetheless in improvement.

That refurb course of will happen in Florida, the place the corporate used to refurbish its outdated Cargo Dragon autos. Lueders mentioned SpaceX engineers name their Kennedy Area Middle refurbishment amenities “Dragonland.” SpaceX has already added infrastructure for Crew Dragon refurbishment. One crew capsule already went by means of the pipeline: in January, SpaceX re-flew the Crew Dragon it launched in 2019 (with none astronauts) as a cargo ship.

NASA nonetheless wants a backup seat

Regardless that Crew Dragon Resilience is doing nicely on the ISS, and the upcoming Crew-2 launch is on schedule for April, NASA nonetheless desires to have a backup plan. The station’s different three crew members are two Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who’re as a consequence of return to Earth in April on the identical Soyuz capsule they rode in on final 12 months. If the Crew-2 spacecraft runs into issues earlier than its April flight, NASA will want one other choice to get an astronaut to the ISS. In any other case, they threat leaving the station with no NASA crew members for the primary time because the station was first occupied in 2000.

The company introduced earlier this month that it’s searching for one other seat on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft as a security internet. The Verge reported that NASA was in talks with house infrastructure startup Axiom Area to e book that Soyuz seat, as a substitute of shopping for straight from the Russians — solely the second time within the decades-long NASA-Russia relationship to take action.

Lueders mentioned the US firm (with out particularly naming Axiom, as a result of the talks had been ongoing) reached out to NASA with its personal proposal and provided the backup resolution. So, as a authorized formality, NASA issued a discover saying it’s trying to purchase a Soyuz seat as a result of — as Lueders put it — “one among our business suppliers on the market mentioned ‘Hey, there’s a business alternative for me right here,’ in order that they gave us an unsolicited proposal.”

Axiom’s chief govt, Michael Suffredini, co-founded the Houston-based firm in 2016 after spending 10 years as NASA’s ISS program supervisor. It’s unclear whether or not Axiom had already owned the Soyuz seat it’s promoting to NASA or whether or not the Houston-based firm is at the moment going by means of the method with Roscosmos to purchase it. Roscosmos (Russia’s house company) and Axiom each declined to remark.

Regardless of the association, the dealmaking and seat swapping is poised to provide NASA the reassurance it must preserve a US astronaut on the ISS. NASA and the State Division are “within the ultimate levels” of arising with an settlement with Roscosmos to fly Russian cosmonauts on future flights of SpaceX’s or Boeing’s capsules in alternate for flying extra US astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft, Lueders mentioned. Nailing that settlement has been a yearslong course of.

“We had been hoping it will occur a bit of bit sooner, and so sadly it wasn’t occurring in time for the April Soyuz seat,” Lueders mentioned. That delay gave Axiom an opportunity to make a deal.

“In the event you mentioned, ‘Kathy, what’s your logistics dream?’ I’d say each car going as much as the ISS must have a US crew member on it, and we consider each US car going as much as have a Russian crew member on it,” Lueders mentioned.

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