NASA has revealed a new target date for the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon is now set to lift off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:40 a.m. ET on Saturday, October 31.
Previously, NASA had named October 23, 2020 as the expected launch date.
Astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will be inside the Crew Dragon located atop the Falcon 9 for the Crew-1 mission. The astronauts are set to spend a period of six months living and working aboard the ISS.
The launch will take place three months after NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the successful Demo-2 test mission of the Crew Dragon, which docked with the space station for nine weeks.
The historic Demo-2 mission marked the first astronaut launch for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and was also the first astronaut launch from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
Departing a week later than originally planned, NASA said the new October 31 launch date allows it to avoid any potential conflict with the upcoming ISS-bound Soyuz MS-17 mission currently scheduled for mid-October.
In addition, the space agency said the extra time gives both it and SpaceX ample opportunity to make final preparations both on the ground and aboard the station.
These include sorting out a minor air leak aboard the space station before the four-person crew arrives there at the end of October. The leak was first spotted in September 2019 but wasn’t considered a priority at the time. Recently, however, the rate of leakage has increased, prompting the space agency to make a serious effort to track it down — an exercise that is proving to be more challenging than expected.
The success of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft means NASA now has its own vehicle for transporting astronauts to and from the space station, bringing an end to U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz launches.