SpaceX aces seventh astronaut launch in less than two years

Falcon 9 soars into orbit for SpaceX's seventh astronaut launch in less than two years. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX has successfully completed its second astronaut launch in less than three weeks, sending a batch of professional NASA and ESA astronauts on the way to the International Space Station after ferrying the first all-private astronaut crew to and from the same orbital outpost in the weeks prior.

Shrugging off a 12-day delay caused by repeated delays to the launch and recovery of that separate private astronaut mission, NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission sailed through preflight preparations once it was finally allowed to proceed. Right on schedule, flight-proven Falcon 9 booster B1067 ignited its nine Merlin 1D engines and lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A at 3:52 am EDT (07:52 UTC) on Wednesday, April 27th.

Ascent, booster landing, and Dragon deployment. (SpaceX)

After burning for two and a half minutes, B1067 shut down and separated from Falcon 9’s upper stage, which ignited its lone Merlin Vacuum (MVac) engine a few seconds later and began propelling Crew Dragon and four astronauts the rest of the way to low Earth orbit (LEO). A bit less than nine minutes after liftoff, the upper stage reached a stable parking orbit and shut down. Around the same time, Falcon 9 B1067 began its third and final burn of the mission, igniting one M1D engine to slow itself to a standstill for a soft landing aboard drone ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG).

Stationed about 550 kilometers (`~340 mi) northeast of Pad 39A; ASOG, support ship Doug, and a SpaceX team have been at sea since April 18th and will likely be relieved to return to port after a longer-than-expected deployment.

Now safely in orbit, Crew-4’s Crew Dragon has a roughly 16-hour journey ahead to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 9:30 pm EDT later today. Crew-4 will join another a second Crew Dragon at the ISS and ultimately take over from Crew-3, which Falcon 9 launched to the station in November 2021. Weather permitting, Crew-3 is scheduled to undock less than three days after Crew-4’s arrival.

Eric Ralph: Eric Ralph is Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter and has been covering the industry in some capacity for almost half a decade, largely spurred in 2016 by a trip to Mexico to watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's plans for Mars in person. Aside from spreading interest and excitement about spaceflight far and wide, his primary goal is to cover humanity's ongoing efforts to expand beyond Earth to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
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