23 April 2021 News

NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 heads to the ISS in a reused rocket and capsule

Image captured from live footage of SpaceX's and NASA's Crew-2 flight to the ISS. Image: Courtesy of SpaceX
Image captured from live footage of SpaceX's and NASA's Crew-2 flight to the ISS. Image: Courtesy of SpaceX

For the third time in a year, astronauts are heading to the International Space Station on a private rocket, following the successful launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft.

“We’ll in less than a year have flown as many people in this partnership with NASA as were flown in the Mercury program,” SpaceX senior director Benji Reed said during a press briefing earlier this week.

Crew-2 lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:49 ET (9:49 am GMT) in a flawless flight which saw SpaceX launch both a reused rocket and a reused capsule for the first time.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage as scheduled 12 minutes after launch. Meanwhile SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 first stage, which incorporates nine Merlin engines that can generate 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level, landed on the “Of course I still love you” droneship stationed in the Atlantic – SpaceX's 80th landing of an orbital class rocket booster.

“Flying on reused vehicles, on flight proven vehicles is key towards greater flight reliability and lowering the cost of access to space, which is ultimately what helps us make life multiplanetary,” Reed said.

Its crew of four astronauts, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will join the Expedition 65 crew already aboard the ISS.

Crew-2 commander, Kimbrough, told journalists at a press conference last week that this mission was the first to follow the streamlined training flow that future missions will use. “We’re the first ones to have gone through what we hope to be the templated flows for future crews,” he said.

When Endeavour arrives at the ISS, her sister ship Resilience, which launched last November with Crew-1, will still be docked at the orbital outpost.

This will be the first time since Project Gemini in the 1960s that two US crewed missions have been in orbit at the same time and the first time in history that two US human spacecraft will be docked at the ISS at the same time.

Crew-2 are expected to arrive at the ISS 5.10 ET (9:10 am GMT) tomorrow (Saturday) where current onboard astronauts will throw a welcome reception for the ISS’s new inhabitants. Crew-2 will stay for around six months and depart from the space station no earlier than 31 October for return to Earth.

Endeavour was last used in SpaceX’s historic demo-2 mission - the first time that two US astronauts lifted off from US soil on a private American rocket.

Its two veteran NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, spent 11 weeks at the ISS before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean in August.

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