SpaceX is set to launch its 6th full astronaut crew to the space station


SpaceX plans to launch its sixth full contingent of astronauts to the International Space Station early Monday, as it continues an unprecedented rhythm of Falcon 9 rocket launches and looks ahead to its first orbital launch test. the next generation Starship car.

The Crew-6 astronauts – two Americans, one Russian and one astronaut from the United Arab Emirates – are scheduled to take off from the Kennedy Space Center at 1:45 a.m. and are expected to dock their Dragon spacecraft with the space station. early Tuesday.

The launch comes as NASA and Russia continue to investigate what caused two Russian spacecraft — one designed for spaceflight, the other for cargo only — to produce strangely similar leaks of coolant within a few months of each other while attached to the space station. Russia launched a replacement capsule to the station on Thursday to carry a pair of Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut. The capsule landed on Saturday night.

Since May 2020, when it sent a pair of NASA astronauts on a test flight to the station, SpaceX has flown a series of human spaceflight missions that include professionally trained astronauts representing their governments as well as many private citizens.

In 2014, when NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to design and build spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts to the orbiting outpost, most of the aerospace community thought Boeing would fly first. But it didn’t turn out that way.

While SpaceX continues to provide a reliable crew and cargo service to the station, Boeing is struggling to get off the ground. But Boeing hopes it will finally launch its first crew on a test flight to the station as early as April. That would give NASA two providers, and a backup in case the company fails — a point driven home recently by the Russian spacecraft leaks.

The launch of Crew-6 – which includes NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev – comes just two days after the -arrival of Russian replacement spacecraft to the station. Last month, Russia decided that its Soyuz MS-22 capsule was not safe to return its crew to Earth after it developed a coolant leak from a radiator loop. Another Russian spacecraft, this one designed for cargo only, not astronauts, also suffered a similar leak. Engineers from NASA and Russia continue to investigate what caused the problems.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Dana Weigel, the deputy program manager of the space station at NASA, said that “this is still an ongoing investigation. They are still going through all the information that they have on the two spacecraft to try to understand if there is any common cause or anything else that could be the cause and there are leaks in both panels of the radiator.”

He added that Russian officials at Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, “shared information with us.” Roscosmos also conducted another set of inspections on the rescue spacecraft that was launched last week to pick up NASA astronaut Frank Rubio as well as Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin. “They’re looking into it,” he said. “They looked at the radiators, the solar arrays, and they didn’t find anything anomalous. But that doesn’t mean they’re done investigating.”

While Boeing continues to push for the first human spaceflight mission with its Starliner spacecraft, SpaceX is leading the way, launching multiple crews into orbit, as it continues a vigorous and unprecedented cadence that includes 61 orbital launches last year, most of them for its Starlink internet satellite constellation. This year, the company said it is pushing up to 100 flights.

“But above all, the priority is crew members and crew safety,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs. “And also to fulfill our obligations to ensure the rotation of the crew in the space station. That always takes precedence over any other flights. “

The company is now preparing to launch Starship, its massive, fully reusable two-stage rocket, which will be the most powerful ever to fly. The Starship launch, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, could come as early as next month from the company’s South Texas facility in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA will be watching to see how the vehicle performs. The space agency invested $2.9 billion in the vehicle and intends to use it to transport astronauts to and from the surface of the moon as part of its Artemis program.

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