The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon Endurance capsule sit on pad 39A for the Crew 7 mission. Photo: NASA. NASA, SpaceX and its international partners are meeting at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday to launch the seventh operational Crew Dragon mission to the space station.
Three astronauts and one cosmonaut, Crew Mission 7 is scheduled to launch aboard the Crew Dragon Endurance on Friday, Aug. 25 at 3:49 a.m. EDT (0749 UTC) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Saturday, August 26 at 2:02 am EDT (0602 UTC) to launch the ISS. Meanwhile, the four-member Crew 6 team, which has been at the orbital outpost since March, is preparing to return to Earth after a few days of handover to help Crew 7 acclimatize.
SpaceX crews lifted the rocket to the launch pad late Sunday and placed it in an upright position Monday afternoon ahead of a so-called dry dress rehearsal, where the crew and launch teams will conduct pre-flight operations. The astronauts will board Dragon early Tuesday morning, when the countdown stops to a simulated T-0 at 3:49 a.m. EDT (0749 UTC).
Afterward, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich said the teams will fully fuel the Falcon 9 rocket and conduct a six-second static fire test of the nine Merlin engines.
“We’re going to test the rocket one last time to make sure the engines are working well, and then we’ll step back and review that data with SpaceX,” Stich said.
Among the FRRs were some specific topics that NASA and SpaceX wanted to discuss and agree that they were ready to move forward.
One was concerned about what Stich described as “low-flow propellant isolation valves” that had seen corrosion after SpaceX’s 28th cargo mission to the space station, Commercial Resupply Services 28 (CRS-28).
Four Crew-7 mission astronauts pose in their SpaceX flight suits during a training session at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
From left to right: Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli and JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. Image: SpaceX He said teams removed the valves of concern from Cargo Dragon C208 to further inspect and better understand the root cause of the corrosion. They then replaced some valves on the Crew Dragon Endurance, which will carry out the Crew-7 mission.
“Corrosion is caused by oxidizer vapor mixed with a little bit of moisture,” Stich explained during a media teleconference Monday. “The materials are corrosion resistant, but if you get enough steam from the oxidizer with water, you can create some acid and cause corrosion.”
Stich said teams with NASA and SpaceX have spent the past month working on the issue. SpaceX has conducted tests at several locations around the country, and NASA has done some work at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, he said.
Another question that came up during the FRR was about the parachutes used in the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s reentry sequence.
Stich noted that during the return of the Crew-5 astronauts, the latest Dragon splashdown procedure, one of the drogues “took almost five seconds for the first drogue parachute to fully inflate.”
When the Dragon spacecraft returns to Earth in the normal manner, the ship’s two parachutes will deploy before deploying the four main chute.
Dragons were studied in simulations of both normal and abort scenarios, and parachutes were designed for use during the launch of the Crew-7 mission. Stich said NASA and SpaceX periodically use Cargo Dragon missions to test new upgrades that could benefit the missions.
The Dragon Endurance capsule is pictured rolling into the launch pad late Sunday night. Image: SpaceX. One such example is the so-called “energy modulator,” which Stich described as a “shock-absorbing strap.”
“When we pull the main bags out of the flying parachutes during that deployment sequence, we attach some ties to them to keep the harnesses intact and not contact other parts of the system during deployment,” Stich said. “So we flew a cargo flight first, and actually several cargo flights. We are now flying Crew-7 for the first time.
“Be hungry…be paranoid.”
As SpaceX prepares to launch its 11th human mission, the company is once again aiming for another record-breaking year of spaceflight.
While the LC-39A crews were preparing for the dry dress rehearsal of the Crew-7 mission, two Starlink missions were being prepared at the same time.
The team in California follows at 12:45 p.m. PDT (3:45 a.m. EDT, 0745 UTC) for the launch of Starlink Group 7-1 mission, sending a batch of 21 Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB).
As the Falcon 9 prepared to lift off for a vertical crew mission, a ground vehicle carrying Starlink satellites in payload pods was en route to Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCFSS).
This is in support of the Starlink Group 6-11 mission, which is expected to launch as early as Tuesday evening.
The payload fairing, containing the photobombs for the Starlink satellites, is positioned horizontally on Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 on pads 39A as it is transferred to pad 40 for the upcoming launch. See live images from the Cape: https://t.co/FVz8ZF6Z63 pic.twitter.com/Qtkf5Nq4xY
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) March 2023 August 21
Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX’s vice president of development and flight reliability, said they have multiple support teams that fly these missions so they don’t overburden and overburden their people.
Until now in 2023 SpaceX launched 53 Falcon 9 rockets, three Falcon Heavy rockets and one test flight from the entire Starship stack.
Gerstenmaier said that in 2023 flying 51 customer flights on the Falcon 9 provides critical environment and data for sending humans into space.
“When we do Starlink missions, we’ll typically fly in a higher thrust profile, we’ll actually use the pumps at higher turbine speeds, and that actually allows us to see how the engines actually work. Then we will go on a crew mission,” he said. “We’re flying that crew mission and we’re reducing the levels with more supplies for the hardware.” So, I think that gives us another benefit because we have the opportunity to see how this hardware performs in a more stressful environment.
Finding this sweet spot could help them learn more about the Falcon 9 rocket’s capabilities as their flight frequency continues to increase, he said.
“My words are ‘be hungry.’ The company’s watchword is “stay paranoid.” I prefer “hungry” to “paranoid” but the idea is that you just have to keep looking and when you find some small problem you have to really understand what it’s trying to tell you because later when a big problem happens you’ll see breadcrumbs , which lead to that little problem,” Gerstenmaier said.
“The secret is to find those little problems, expand on them, and then help yourself fly in the future.”