The International Space Station is gearing up for a busy few days as NASA and SpaceX prep the launch of one mission and the return of another.
Four SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts were supposed to launch to the ISS on Sunday, October 31, but poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center launch site in Florida prompted the mission team to call it off. It was rescheduled to Wednesday, November 3, but postponed again as one of the crewmembers had to deal with a minor medical issue. A new launch date was set for Saturday, November 6, but more poor weather has delayed the launch again, this time pushing it to Monday, November 8.
But with the current Crew-2 astronauts preparing to return to Earth after a six-month stay on the space station, NASA and SpaceX are now considering whether to delay the Crew-3 launch again and instead focus on bringing the Crew-2 astronauts home.
The decision is yet to be made and largely depends on the weather conditions for both the launch and recovery operations.
“The earliest possible opportunity for Crew-2 undocking from the space station is at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 7, to begin the return trip to Earth for splashdown off the coast of Florida,” NASA said on Thursday, adding that a back-up undocking opportunity also is available on Monday, November 8.
Meanwhile, the earliest possible opportunity for SpaceX’s Crew-3 launch is 9:51 p.m. ET on Monday, November 8, “if mission teams do not pursue Crew-2 return on Sunday, November 7 or Monday, November 8,” NASA said.
The space agency said that mission teams will make a final decision on whether to prioritize Crew-3’s launch or Crew-2’s return “in the coming days based on the likelihood of favorable conditions for a Crew Dragon splashdown or Crew Dragon launch,” adding that the teams are also “reviewing the time needed between launch or return operations.”
The incoming Crew-3 astronauts include NASA’s Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, plus Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency (ESA).
The departing Crew-2 astronauts include NASA’s Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, plus Thomas Pesquet of ESA and Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA, Japan’s space agency.
Commenting on the current situation, Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said: “These are dynamic and complex decisions that change day by day. The weather in November can be especially challenging, so our goal is to move forward on the plan with the highest probability of mission assurance and crew safety.”