First operational Crew Dragon spacecraft docks to ISS
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon “Resilience” and its four-person astronaut occupants arrived at the International Space Station a day after an evening launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Following a 27-hour orbital cruise, the Crew-1 spacecraft with NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi docked with the space station at 11:01 p.m. EST Nov. 16 (4:01 a.m. UTC Nov. 17), 2020.
“Congratulations, this is a new era of operational flights to the International Space Station from the Florida coast,” Hopkins said following docking.
Following leak checks between the ISS and Dragon spacecraft, the hatches were opened at 1:02 a.m. EST (6:02 a.m. UTC) Nov. 17, allowing the Crew-1 astronauts to join with the already-aboard Expedition 64 space station increment — NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.
Combined, Expedition 64 swelled to its full crew complement of seven people — the largest increment in ISS history.
“We are humbled and we are excited to be a part of this great expedition,” Hopkins said during a welcoming ceremony following the hatch opening. “We are looking forward to the next six months and can’t wait to get started.”
Video credit: SciNews
While the Crew-1 astronauts will all serve as flight engineers for the Expedition 64 increment, they each have a specific role while aboard Crew Dragon. Hopkins is the spacecraft commander. Glover is the pilot. Walker and Noguchi are mission specialists.
Hopkins, 51, is on his second spaceflight. He first flew in space as part of Expedition 37 and 38 in 2013 and 2014. During that flight he spent 166 days in orbit. He is also a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Additionally, he holds a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in Aerospace engineering from Stanford University.
44-year-old Glover, meanwhile, is on his first spaceflight. He was selected to be part of NASA astronaut class of 2013. He is also a commander in the U.S. Navy and a test pilot with 3,000 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft, including over 400 carrier arrested landings and 24 combat missions, according to NASA.
Walker, 55, is on her second spaceflight. She first flew in space as part of the 164-day Expedition 24/25 ISS increment in 2010. She holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Rice University in Texas and a master’s degree and doctorate in space physics, also from Rice University.
Finally, 55-year-old Noguchi is on his third spaceflight. His previous flights include the STS-114 space shuttle Discovery return to flight in 2005 as well as serving as a flight engineer for the Expedition 22/23 ISS increment. In total, he has 178 days of spaceflight experience.
Noguchi is a Japanese astronaut and the first international astronaut to fly aboard a commercial human-rated spacecraft. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
Expedition 64 is the first ISS crew increment to have seven people. Since 2009, the outpost has regularly had six people. However, there have been periods with smaller crew sizes. Most recently, Expedition 63 was primarily a three-person crew with a two-month period where it increased to five while the Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission was docked.
For Crew-1 and the increase to seven crew members, NASA said the amount of science that can be done aboard the outpost will be significantly increased.
“One of the cool things about having the Commercial Crew Program is we’re able to double the amount of crew-tended science and research and technology development we do on board the International Space Station,” said Joel Montalbano, the ISS program manager at NASA.
Montalbano said with three regular U.S. orbital segment crew members, the amount of dedicated science being performed per week averaged about 35 hours. A fourth person on the U.S. segment increases that to about 70 hours.
For Expedition 64, however, there are 5 U.S. orbital segment astronauts (including Noguchi) and two Russian orbital segment cosmonauts. That balance is expected to change during Expedition 65 with three cosmonauts and four astronauts.
In addition to the science, a number of spacewalks will also be conducted with tasks that involve adding a final new lithium-ion battery on the space station’s external truss and outfitting a new external rack and yet-to-be-launched commercial experiment airlock.
Resilience and Crew-1 are slated to remain at the ISS through spring 2021, probably sometime in April. They’ll be replaced by the Crew-2 astronauts, who are expected to launch aboard Crew Dragon Endeavour about a week before Crew-1 is set to return to Earth. The timing of that handover is still in flux.
Meanwhile, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov, who launched to the ISS aboard Soyuz MS-17 in October 2020, is scheduled to depart the ISS on April 9, 2021, about a week after the arrival of Soyuz MS-18 and its three-person cosmonaut crew.
A new era
Crew-1 launched into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:27 p.m. EST Nov. 15 (12:27 a.m. UTC Nov. 16), from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
About a month before Crew-1 was scheduled to launch, the astronauts announced the name of their spacecraft would be “Resilience.” They said this was in honor of their families and colleagues, as well as their fellow citizens as the world navigates the challenges of 2020.
It also honors the amount of work it took to get to this point. The Commercial Crew Program started in 2011 with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft selected with the goal to start flying astronauts in 2017.
Technical issues as well as funding shortfalls throughout the year delayed the first unpiloted orbital flights for both companies to 2019. Boeing is still working to fly a successful orbital test flight, following their unsuccessful unpiloted orbital test flight in December 2019.
SpaceX also had an issue with its SuperDraco engines in 2019 following its successful unpiloted Demo-2 mission in March 2019. The issue occurred during a ground test after the mission, causing the capsule to explode on a test stand.
SpaceX finally launched its crewed Demo-2 mission over summer 2020, paving the way for Crew-1 — the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
During a post-launch press conference, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said the company should be flying roughly seven Dragons to the ISS over the next 15 months, including the cargo variant of the upgraded spacecraft.
“[Crew-1] represents the initiation of a Dragon in orbit continuously, knocking on wood, and certainly is really the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight,” Shotwell said.
In fact, as early as next month, the first cargo variant of the upgraded Dragon spacecraft is slated to launch and dock to the space-facing docking adapter on the Harmony module. The CRS-21 resupply mission is expected to remain at the ISS for about a month and bring a new commercial experiment airlock to the outpost.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.