NASA and SpaceX officials are moving forward with preparations to launch the next commercial Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station next week after a Flight Readiness Review Thursday, pending a final evaluation of a discovery by SpaceX that it has potentially been loading slightly more propellant than expected into its Falcon 9 rockets.
SpaceX trucked its Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft — refurbished with a new heat shield and structural enhancements — across the Cape Canaveral spaceport this week for attachment to a Falcon 9 rocket ahead of a planned liftoff next Thursday with four astronauts heading to the International Space Station.
NASA and SpaceX have set April 22 as the target launch date for the next Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station. The four-person crew will be the first to ride a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster and a reused Dragon spacecraft, and a NASA official said this week that the launcher and capsule are in “really good shape” as refurbishment wraps up at Cape Canaveral.
The Falcon 9 booster that launched four astronauts toward orbit last weekend arrived back on Florida’s Space Coast Thursday aboard a SpaceX drone ship, sailing into Port Canaveral with a lean but otherwise in seemingly good shape after it apparently slid across the ship’s deck in high winds and rough seas. Assuming post-flight inspections reveal no major issues, SpaceX aims to reuse the booster to launch the next Crew Dragon mission in 2021.
Members of NASA’s independent panel of aerospace safety advisors raised concerns last week about quality control problems that “seemingly have plagued” Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program, while urging NASA to closely monitor SpaceX’s plans to reuse Crew Dragon spaceships on astronaut flights to the International Space Station.