Crew-1 Mission of NASA and SpaceX
November 10, 2020: Years of design, development, and testing have culminated in NASA officially certifying the first commercial spacecraft system in history capable of transporting humans to and from the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA completed the signing of the Human Rating Certification Plan Tuesday for SpaceX’s crew transportation system after a thorough Flight Readiness Review ahead the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the space station. 1)
Figure 1: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Resilience for NASA SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission are seen inside the SpaceX Hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 9, 2020, before rollout to Launch Pad 39A (image credit: SpaceX)
“I’m extremely proud to say we are returning regular human spaceflight launches to American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This certification milestone is an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX that highlights the progress we can make working together with commercial industry.”
The Crew Dragon, including the Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems, is the first new, crew spacecraft to be NASA-certified for regular flights with astronauts since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. Several critical events paved the way for this achievement, including grounds tests, simulations, uncrewed flight tests and NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley earlier this year.
“Today’s signing is about the people across NASA, SpaceX and other groups that came together to complete an unbelievable amount of hard work to accomplish this task,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operation Mission Directorate. “Certification moves us from the design and test phase into the crew rotation phase of our work, but we will not stop making sure every flight, including NASA’s Space Crew-1 mission, will be approached with the same rigor we have put into making this the best system it can be for our astronauts.”
The launch of the Demo-2 mission on May 30, 2020, marked the first time astronauts flew aboard the American rocket and spacecraft from the U.S. to the space station, and extensive analysis of the test flight data followed the safe return of Behnken and Hurley on Aug. 2.
Prior to Demo-2, NASA and SpaceX completed several demonstration flights to prove the system was ready to fly astronauts. In 2015, teams completed a Crew Dragon pad abort test during which the spacecraft demonstrated the ability to escape the launch pad in the event of an emergency prior to liftoff.
In March 2019, NASA and SpaceX took another major step toward restoring America’s human spaceflight capability when Crew Dragon returned safely to Earth after spending five days docked to the space station for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-1 mission. The test flight was the first launch, docking and return of the commercially built and operated American spacecraft.
In January 2020, NASA and SpaceX completed a launch escape demonstration of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. During the test, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape prior to 1 minute and 30 seconds into flight to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely carry the astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency.
“Thank you to NASA for their continued support of SpaceX and partnership in achieving this goal,” said SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk. “I could not be more proud of everyone at SpaceX and all of our suppliers who worked incredibly hard to develop, test, and fly the first commercial human spaceflight system in history to be certified by NASA. This is a great honor that inspires confidence in our endeavor to return to the Moon, travel to Mars, and ultimately help humanity become multi-planetary.”
Dozens of tests of the spacecraft’s parachute system were successfully completed, which began in 2016 and wrapped up this year. Several key events have occurred since 2018, including the completion of electromagnetic interference chamber testing on Crew Dragon at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California, and acoustic chamber testing on the spacecraft at the NASA’s Plum Brook Station test facility at Glenn Research Center in Ohio. Hundreds of tests have been performed on the spacecraft’s eight SuperDraco abort engines, which would provide astronauts an escape from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency at liftoff.
NASA and SpaceX also coordinated with the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct crew rescue training. The DoD Human Space Flight Support Office Rescue Division is prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice to quickly and safely rescue astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent or splashdown.
“NASA’s partnership with American private industry is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science and more commercial opportunities,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA. “We are truly in the beginning of a new era of human spaceflight.”
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission will be the first flight to use the certified SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and will fly NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, on a six-month mission to and from the space station. Crew Dragon is targeting launch on a Falcon 9 on Saturday, Nov. 14, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit. With NASA certification of the SpaceX crew transportation system complete, the agency can proceed with regularly flying astronauts to the space station, ending sole reliance on Russia for access. Commercial transportation to and from the orbiting laboratory will provide additional research time and broader opportunities for discovery.
Figure 2: The astronauts for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission pose for a photo in front of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience by the crew, inside the SpaceX hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A on Nov. 8, 2020. From left, JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist; NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, spacecraft commander; NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, mission specialist; and NASA astronaut Victor Glover, pilot (image credit: SpaceX)
Figure 3: NASA completed signing of the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. The Crew Dragon, including the Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems, is the first new crew spacecraft to be NASA-certified for regular flights with astronauts since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. Several critical events paved the way for the landmark announcement, including grounds tests, simulations, uncrewed flight tests and a successful test flight with astronauts aboard (video credit: NASA Kennedy Space center)
Figure 4: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft stands tall on the launch pad at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida on Tuesday, Nov. 10, after being rolled out overnight (image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
• November 11, 2020: NASA formally certified SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft for transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, clearing the way for a Nov. 14 launch. 2)
- Agency officials completed the certification of the spacecraft by signing a document known as a Human Rating Certification Plan during a flight readiness review for the Crew-1 mission Nov. 10. That confirmed that SpaceX met all of NASA’s requirements for safely carrying astronauts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
- The review also confirmed that SpaceX had addressed a problem with the engines on the Falcon 9 that triggered a last-second abort of an Oct. 2 launch of a GPS 3 satellite. SpaceX later determined that a “masking lacquer” material blocked tiny valves in the engine’s gas generator. SpaceX corrected the problem and successfully launched that GPS 3 satellite Nov. 5.
- SpaceX replaced two of the engines on the Falcon 9 first stage for this mission as part of that investigation. “We reviewed all the data on those two new engines. All that data looks good,” said Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager. “So I feel really good about this vehicle.”
• October 10, 2020: NASA is delaying the launch of the first operational SpaceX commercial crew mission to the first half of November to provide more time to review a problem during a recent Falcon 9 launch attempt. 3)
- NASA announced Oct. 10 the Crew-1 mission, which was scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 in the early morning hours of Oct. 31 from the Kennedy Space Center, will now launch no earlier than early to mid-November.
- The delay, the agency said, will provide more time for SpaceX “to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of the Falcon-9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt.” NASA did not identify the specific launch attempt in question, but an Oct. 2 launch of a Falcon-9 carrying a GPS 3 satellite was scrubbed just two seconds before liftoff because of SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk later described as an “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator.”
- “With the high cadence of missions SpaceX performs, it really gives us incredible insight into this commercial system and helps us make informed decisions about the status of our missions,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in the agency statement. She said an investigation into the problem is ongoing “and we should be a lot smarter within the coming week.”
- Both the Crew-1 and the GPS 3 missions are using new Falcon-9 first stages that have not previously launched. After the GPS 3 scrub, SpaceX successfully launched another Falcon-9 Oct. 6 carrying 60 Starlink satellites using a booster making its third flight. SpaceX has yet to reschedule the GPS 3 launch.
- NASA said the issue with the Crew-1 mission will not delay another Falcon-9 launch, of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Earth observation satellite, scheduled for Nov. 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That mission will also use a new Falcon-9 first stage. Another Falcon-9, likely with a previously flown first stage, will launch a cargo Dragon spacecraft for NASA in late November or early December.
- The Crew-1 mission will transport NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, to the International Space Station for a six-month stay. NASA previously delayed the launch from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31 to provide more time to wrap up certification work of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
- “For this critical launch, we’re happy to support NASA and any schedule that they need,” Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said at a Sept. 29 NASA briefing about the Crew-1 mission just after the agency announced the delay to Oct. 31. “We will fly when we are ready to fly.”
- The delay won’t affect another crewed mission to the ISS. The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov is scheduled to launch at 1:45 a.m. Eastern Oct. 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking with the station three hours later.
- The current ISS crew of NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will leave the station one week later, returning to Earth on the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft.
Figure 5: NASA astronauts (from left) Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi sit in a Crew Dragon capsule during training for their Crew-1 mission. NASA has delayed the launch of Crew-1 to November to study a problem during a recent Falcon 9 launch attempt (image credit: SpaceX)
• On 28 September 2020, NASA announced that the launch of the first operational crew rotation mission to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is set for the predawn hours of Halloween (2:40 a.m. EDT Oct. 31, 06:40 GMT), eight days later than previously planned. 4) 5)
- The new target date will deconflict the Crew-1 launch and arrival from upcoming Soyuz launch and landing operations. This additional time is needed to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station, ahead of the Crew-1 arrival. The increased spacing also will provide a good window of opportunity to conduct additional testing to isolate the station atmosphere leak if required. SpaceX continues to make progress on preparations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon-9 rocket, and the adjusted date allows the teams additional time for completing open work ahead of launch.
- If the mission takes off as scheduled, the crew capsule will dock with the International Space Station around a day later, either late on Oct. 31 or early Nov. 1.
- Commander Michael Hopkins will lead the four-person crew. He will be joined by pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi to kick off a six-month expedition on the space station.
- The space station’s three residents spent three days isolated in the Russian segment of the complex in August, and the crew spent another weekend in the Russian section of the station last weekend in a bid to help ground teams isolate the location of the leak.
- NASA said SpaceX “continues to make progress on preparations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, and the adjusted date allows the teams additional time for completing open work ahead of launch.”
Figure 6: The Crew-1 mission will include mission specialist Shannon Walker, vehicle pilot Victor Glover, commander Mike Hopkins and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi of JAXA (image credit: NASA)
- Hopkins and his crewmates finished training on Crew Dragon systems last week at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. “We’ve got our license to fly!” Glover tweeted.
- The Crew-1 mission follows a successful test flight known as Demo-2, in which NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to the space station on a two-month mission to wring out the human-rated capsule before officials clear it for regular missions.
- Beginning with Crew-1, SpaceX plans to launch multiple Crew Dragon missions per year with NASA astronauts, international crew members, and fare-paying private passengers. NASA is in the final stages of formally certifying the Crew Dragon for operational missions.
- Noguchi also tweeted last week that the Crew-1 astronauts had completed their final underwater spacewalk training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronauts train in a giant pool to mimic the weightless conditions in orbit.
- The four-person crew set for launch Oct. 31 will remain aboard the space station until around April 2021, when another Crew Dragon spacecraft is set to dock with a fresh four-person team of astronauts. Hopkins and his crewmates will then depart in their Crew Dragon capsule to head for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.
Launch: A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four American and Japanese astronauts is on its way to the International Space Station after a successful Falcon 9 launch on November 16 (00:27:17 UTC, or 7:27 pm EDT on Nov. 15). The Falcon 9 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named “Resilience” by its four-person crew, separated from the rocket’s upper stage 12 minutes after liftoff. The rocket’s first stage landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean nine and a half minutes after liftoff. 6)
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~ 400 km, inclination = 51.6º.
The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the ISS at approximately 11 p.m. EDT Nov. 16. The crew of NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Vic Glover and Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, will stay on the station for six months.
Figure 7: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with four Commercial Crew astronauts inside the Crew Dragon vehicle from Kennedy Space Center in Florida (image credit: NASA)
The launch was scheduled for Nov. 14 but delayed a day because of weather that delayed the arrival of the droneship to the landing zone in the Atlantic. It was not affected by an apparent case of COVID-19 by SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk, who reported mixed testing results and symptoms consistent with a mild case. Musk was not in close contact with the crew, and was notably absent from pre-launch activities at KSC, with company president Gwynne Shotwell present instead.
Moving into operations
The Crew-1 mission sets a number of firsts. Glover will be the first Black astronaut to perform a long-duration flight on the ISS. Noguchi is the first Japanese astronauts to fly to orbit on three different vehicles: the shuttle, Soyuz and Crew Dragon. The mission is the first crewed orbital flight licensed commercially by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
he mission is also the first operational commercial crew flight, after the successful completion of the Demo-2 test flight this summer with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. NASA signed the paperwork formally certifying the spacecraft at the end of a flight readiness review Nov. 10. — “It’s just a tremendous day that is a culmination of a ton of work,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said at a Nov. 10 briefing after the review. “It’s NASA saying to SpaceX you have shown us you can deliver a crew transportation capability that meets our requirements.”
The certification also formally closed out SpaceX’s commercial crew contract with NASA to develop and demonstrate the Crew Dragon spacecraft. “With this milestone, NASA has concluded that the SpaceX system has successfully met our design, safety and performance requirements,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters, during a Nov. 12 call with reporters. “It marks the end of the development phase of the system.”
Crew-1 is the first of a series of what are formally known as “post-certification missions” by NASA. Crew-2, which will fly astronauts from NASA, JAXA and the European Space Agency, has a launch readiness date of March 30, 2021, agency officials said at the Nov. 10 briefing. Crew-3 would follow in late summer or early fall.
NASA has called these “operational” missions on many occasions because they are intended primarily for crew transportation to and from the ISS, rather than testing of the spacecraft itself. “We’re launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a media event at KSC November 13.
However, agency officials acknowledge that the vehicle is still new, with more to learn. “I would not characterize it as ‘operational’ at this point. There's a little bit of a debate as to when we will achieve that designation,” McAlister said. “We’ve completed the development phase, and we are transitioning into operations.”
The present and future of space stations
The four Crew-1 astronauts will join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the station last month on a Soyuz spacecraft. That will bring the station’s crew to seven for the first time on a long-duration basis, something NASA has emphasized as a means of increasing the station’s scientific output.
“We’re looking forward to having the extra capability on board, which will allow us to increase the science we do, increase the exploration development we do,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA ISS program manager, at a Nov. 13 briefing.
“It’s going to be exciting to see how much work we’re going to be able to get done while we’re there,” said Hopkins, commander of Crew-1, during a Nov. 9 media event. He said the crew had seen the plan for their first week of activities on the station after their arrival, which had little unscheduled time. “I think they’re going to keep us pretty busy.”
NASA is working to build up the business case for future commercial space stations that will eventually serve as successors for the ISS. Part of that is demonstrating the kinds of activities that could be done on those future space stations. “The next big phase is commercial space stations themselves,” Bridenstine said. “The ultimate goal is to have more resources to do things for which there is not a commercial marketplace, like go to the moon and on to Mars.”
“I believe we are about to see a major expansion in our ability to work in, play in and explore space,” McAlister said of what commercial crew vehicle, including Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, will be able to achieve. “People have predicting this for decades, and I hope we are on the cusp of seeing that happen.”
• November 17, 2020: The SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience successfully docked automatically to the International Space Station at 11:01 p.m. EST Monday (corresponding to 04:01 GMT on 17 November 2020), transporting NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi. 7)
- When the hatches open about 1:10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Crew-1 astronauts will join Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA, and station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos, who arrived to the station Oct. 14.
Figure 8: Crew-1 Commander Mike Hopkins (seen from the rear on the left) and Pilot Victor Glover (right) watch their screens as the Crew Dragon Resilience approaches the International Space Station just before docking on Nov. 16, 2020. Crew-1 launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 15 (image credits: NASA TV)
- NASA TV will continue to provide live coverage through the welcoming ceremony with NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders joining to greet the crew from the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa joining from the Tsukuba Space Center in Japan. The welcome ceremony is targeted to begin about 1:40 a.m.
Figure 9: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft docked at the International Space Station (image credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now) 8)
• November 17, 2020: The Expedition 64 crew expanded to seven members overnight after four Commercial Crew astronauts docked the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Now two cosmonauts are gearing up for a spacewalk set to start Wednesday (Nov. 18) at 9:30 a.m. EST. 9)
Figure 10: The four Commercial Crew astronauts (front row from left) Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi are welcomed aboard the station. In the back row from left are, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (image credit: NASA)
- The newest station crew members are asleep today following a 27-hour-and-half trip from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to the Harmony module’s forward-facing port. Commander Michael Hopkins and Pilot Victor Glover, alongside Mission Specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi, docked on Monday at 11:01 p.m. The hatches were opened two hours later, and the quartet entered the station to begin a six-month research mission.
- All seven crewmembers gathered in the Harmony module for a welcoming ceremony and congratulations from NASA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) mission officials. Afterward, safety briefings were given to the new quartet showing potential lab hazards, emergency equipment locations and escape routes.
- This is the first long-duration crew comprised of seven members in space station history. The station has hosted up to 13 visitors before but only for a few days at a time during crew swap operations.
- Today, NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins helped Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov get ready for their first spacewalk. The Russian duo will spend about five-and-a-half hours servicing external station hardware and science experiments. Their prime task will be to prepare the station’s Russian segment for the new Nauka mini-research module due to arrive in 2021.
- Crew Dragon also is delivering more than 500 pounds of cargo, new science hardware and experiments inside, including Food Physiology, a study of the effects of an optimized diet on crew health and, Genes in Space-7, a student-designed experiment that aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond. 10)
- Among the science and research investigations the crew will support during its six-month mission are a study using chips with tissue that mimics the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth, growing radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, and testing a new system to remove heat from NASA's next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).
- During their stay on the orbiting laboratory, Crew-1 astronauts expect to see a range of uncrewed spacecraft including the next generation of SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on its uncrewed flight test to the station. They also will conduct a variety of spacewalks and welcome crews of the Russian Soyuz vehicle and the next SpaceX Crew Dragon in 2021.
- At the conclusion of the mission, the Crew-1 astronauts will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth's atmosphere. Crew Dragon also will return to Earth important and time-sensitive research. NASA and SpaceX are capable of supporting seven splashdown sites located off Florida's east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Upon splashdown, the SpaceX recovery ship will pick up the crew and return to shore.
- NASA's Commercial Crew Program is delivering on its goal of safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a partnership with American private industry. This partnership is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).