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Science

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon performing ‘beautifully’ on ISS as NASA eyes a backup ride – The Verge

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut taxi is doing “fantastically” thus far 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 activity is the one surprising hiccup confronted by the crew.

“We’ve been very, very proud of 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, forsaking a buildup of lint and mud.

SpaceX launched the Crew-1 mission on November 15th 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 take a look at milestone final summer season with the launch and return of two US astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

Some further mud is certainly not the worst downside NASA and SpaceX may 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 NG-15 cargo resupply mission, launched Saturday by Northrop Grumman.

NASA and SpaceX have been carefully monitoring Crew Dragon’s well being in area because it tallies 98 days docked to the ISS — the longest period for a human-rated US spacecraft. Maybe most intimately aware of 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 hassle 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 20th, 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 yr, setting the stage for a rigorous refurbishment and certification course of for SpaceX. It’s just 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 previous Cargo Dragon autos. Lueders mentioned SpaceX engineers name their Kennedy Area Middle refurbishment amenities “Dragonland.” SpaceX has already added infrastructure for Crew Dragon refurbishment.

NASA nonetheless wants a backup seat

Though Crew Dragon Resilience is doing properly 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 resulting from return to Earth in April on the identical Soyuz capsule they rode in on final yr. 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 danger 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 space infrastructure startup Axiom Space to guide that Soyuz seat, as an alternative 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 in all our industrial suppliers on the market mentioned ‘Hey, there’s a industrial alternative for me right here,’ in order that they gave us an unsolicited proposal.”

Axiom’s chief government, 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 area company) and Axiom each declined to remark.

Irrespective of the association, the dealmaking and seat swapping is poised to present NASA the reassurance it must hold a US astronaut on the ISS. NASA and the State Division are “within the ultimate levels” of developing with an settlement with Roscosmos to fly Russian cosmonauts on future flights of SpaceX’s or Boeing’s capsules in change 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 just a little 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.

“When 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 imagine each US car going as much as have a Russian crew member on it,” Lueders mentioned.

Correction February 22, 1:20PM ET: A earlier model of this story incorrectly acknowledged a cargo model of Crew Dragon that launched in January was the identical spacecraft utilized in a earlier uncrewed take a look at mission, DM-1. The DM-1 spacecraft was destroyed in a testing explosion in 2019, and the cargo Crew Dragon was a brand new car.

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