SpaceX’s next passenger mission will launch soon, thanks to an all-new capsule.
Last week, SpaceflightNow reported that NASA’s upcoming crewed mission to the International Space Station would use a new Crew Dragon capsule. The mission, set for October 30, will feature a capsule named Endurance by the four-person crew. The news means that the crew won’t have to wait for SpaceX to refurbish one of its other two capsules.
That means the crew will take off less than two months after the Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian mission to orbit. On September 30, NASA announced that Crew-3 would launch no earlier than 2:43 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, October 30. It will be SpaceX’s fourth crewed mission for NASA and its fifth crewed mission overall.
The plans show SpaceX is not planning to stand still. The Inspiration4 mission brought newfound attention to the company, thanks in part to a five-part Netflix documentary.
Like the Inspiration4 mission, which sent up four people who had never been to space before, the Crew-3 mission will also send up three astronauts for their first time. They’ll travel alongside a two-time veteran.
Critically, however, the Crew-3 team is not a civilian team like Inspiration4. It consists of three NASA astronauts and one European Space Agency astronaut.
As SpaceX prepares for its next mission, it’s a reminder of why the Crew Dragon capsule exists in the first place. NASA employed the company, alongside Boeing, to build astronaut-carrying capsules to launch crewed missions from the United States again.
It’s missions like Crew-3 that are laying the foundation for SpaceX and others to expand access to spaceflight further than ever before.
Here’s everything you need to know about the SpaceX Crew-3 mission, from launch date and time to the astronauts on board and what comes next.
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SpaceX Crew-3 launch date, time, and schedule
The Crew-3 mission will launch no earlier than 2:43 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, October 30.
It will take off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The agency also has a backup launch window of 2:21 a.m. on Sunday, October 31.
Part of SpaceX’s long-term goals is to reduce the costs of spaceflight by landing and reusing rocket boosters, and Crew-3 is no exception. NASA has confirmed the mission will use Falcon 9 booster B1067.
This booster previously flew on NASA’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission on June 3, which used a cargo Dragon capsule to transport supplies to the ISS.
The crew will arrive at the ISS following a journey of around 22 hours. There will be a short overlap with the Crew-2 crew, which launched for the ISS on April 23. The four-person Crew-2 team will return early-to-mid November.
Last week, the crew confirmed that the Crew Dragon capsule C210 would be used for the mission. The team dubbed the craft Endurance, a reference to the vessel used by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Crew member Raja Chari explained in a news conference that the name works on several levels:
“First off, it’s just a tribute to the the tenacity of human spirit as we push humans and machines farther than we ever have, going both to stay in extended stays for low earth orbit, opening it up to private companies and private astronauts, and knowing that we’ll continue our exploration to go even farther.”
Musk has made a similar link between Shackleton’s work and the new space race. In March 2018, he compared the planned crewed trip to Mars to Shackleton’s early ads for Antarctic explorers: “difficult, dangerous, good chance you will die.”
Like the other capsules, Crew Dragon Endurance will be certified for up to five space missions and can stay docked to the ISS for up to 210 days.
NASA states that the Crew-3 team will live and work as part of “what is expected to be a seven-member crew.” They are expected to spend around six months at the space station before returning to Earth in the Crew Dragon capsule.
SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts: Who’s on the ship?
The mission will send up four crew members:
- NASA astronaut Raja Chari as mission commander
- NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn as a pilot
- NASA astronaut Kayla Barron as a mission specialist
- ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, the second ESA astronaut and third non-NASA astronaut to fly with SpaceX
Chari, Barron, and Maurer have all never flown to space before. This will be Marshburn’s third flight.
Who are the next SpaceX astronauts after Crew-3?
SpaceX has more lined up after Crew-3.
The company plans to collaborate with Axiom Space on a series of missions to ultimately produce a new, privately-run space station. Ax-1, the first of these missions, is expected to launch no earlier than January 2022. The first mission will include:
- Michael López-Alegría, the mission commander. He’s a former NASA astronaut and now vice president of Axiom Space.
- Larry Connor, the pilot. He’s an entrepreneur from Dayton, Ohio, and has a history of racing, rafting, flying, and mountain climbing.
- Mark Pathy, who will be Canada’s 11th astronaut. He’s an investor, philanthropist, and CEO of Montreal-based investment firm Mavrik.
- Eytan Stibbe, who will be Israel’s second astronaut. He’s the director of the Vital Capital Fund, a private equity fund with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
After the mission, Axiom Space aims to launch further crewed missions every six months.
On Thursday, NASA also confirmed that the agency is continuing to target April 15, 2022, to launch the Crew-4 mission.
This will launch the following crew to space:
- NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren as mission commander
- NASA astronaut Bob Hines as a pilot
- ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, famous for being the first person to brew an espresso in space, will be a mission specialist
- A fourth crew member has yet to be determined
What about SpaceX Starship?
The Crew Dragon may not have long left before SpaceX replaces it. The company is currently developing the Starship, a fully-reusable rocket designed to send up to 100 people or 100 tons to space at a time. The company is currently preparing for its first orbital flight, and a crewed mission around the Moon is scheduled for 2023.
From there, SpaceX plans to send the first humans to Mars in the mid-2020s using the Starship. The long-term goal is to build a city on Mars by 2050.
Far from a routine mission, Crew-3 could be a stepping stone to transforming humanity into a multi-planetary species.
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