SpaceX has busy manifest of Dragon missions

SpaceX has busy manifest of Dragon missions

by Jeff Foust — September 30, 2020

Dragon assembly
A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft being prepared for launch. The company plans to launch three crew and four cargo Dragon missions over 14 months. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — SpaceX is preparing for a busy schedule of Dragon missions carrying cargo and crew to the International Space Station through next year, a manifest that will make at least some use of reused spacecraft.

At a Sept. 29 NASA briefing, Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said that schedule of missions means there will be at least one Dragon spacecraft, and sometimes two, docked to the station continuously through the end of 2021 after the launch of the Crew-1 Crew Dragon mission, currently scheduled for Oct. 31.

“This really is a new era for us as a company at SpaceX, and also for commercial space in general,” he said.

Reed said that the current manifest projects seven Dragon missions will launch in the next 14 months, including three Crew Dragon missions. The Crew-1 mission will be followed next spring by the Crew-2 mission, for which NASA has already assigned astronauts from the U.S., Europe and Japan. A Crew-3 mission would follow late next year, although NASA has not announced plans for it.

There will also be four Dragon cargo missions, starting with the CRS-21 mission scheduled for launch in November. Those missions will use the same spacecraft design as the Crew Dragon missions instead of the original cargo version of Dragon flown on past cargo missions to the station. That will enable the cargo Dragon to directly dock with the station, rather than be grappled by the station’s robotic arm and berthed to the station.

The CRS-21 mission will also mark the first time two Dragon spacecraft are in space at the same time. That mission will remain docked to the station for 35 days before returning to Earth. After that, the Crew-2 astronauts will board the Crew Dragon and relocate it from its original docking port, called Node 2 Forward, to the neighboring Node 2 Zenith port. That would free up the Node 2 Forward port, which offers a more straightforward approach to the station, for an uncrewed Boeing CST-100 Starliner test flight tentatively scheduled for late this year.

Flying seven Dragon missions in 14 months will require some degree of spacecraft reuse, Reed said. “A number of them are reused flights, and a handful of them are new,” he said, but didn’t immediately know how many of the missions will use previously flown spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX previously said they would refurbish the Dragon flown on the Demo-2 test flight this summer for the Crew-2 mission. Both Crew-1 and possibly Crew-3 will use new spacecraft, he said.

“What we’re doing right now is assessing the right way to do all of those in the most efficient manner we can, and make sure we have the right amount of margin in the schedule between refurbishment and the need for flight,” he said.

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