SpaceX Dragon delivers astronauts to space station ahead of schedule

Crew Dragon Endurance has delivered four Crew-3 NASA and ESA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) half an hour ahead of schedule, completing the launch and ascent portion of SpaceX’s fifth astronaut launch in 18 months.

Following a flawless 9:03pm EST liftoff, Falcon 9 booster landing, and orbital insertion on Wednesday, November 10th, Crew Dragon has performed several autonomous Draco thruster burns to raise its orbit and rendezvous with the ISS. Originally expected to take 22 hours, the rookie Dragon spacecraft managed the feat in 21.5 hours, docking with the space station almost 40 minutes ahead of schedule at 6:32pm EST on Thursday, November 11th. Following the docking and what’s known as ‘soft capture,’ the station firmed up their connection by driving a number of ‘hooks’ into receptacles on Dragon.

Once a good seal and ‘hard mate’ is confirmed, Crew-3 astronauts are scheduled to open Dragon’s hatch around 60-90 minutes after docking. As is tradition, the three current ISS occupants and four new arrivals will host a welcome ceremony and make a few live comments, marking the end of the ascent, rendezvous, and docking portion of their orbital journey. Now safely aboard the ISS, Crew-3 astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and Matthias Maurer have a more than six-month stay ahead of them, during which they’ll maintain the orbital outpost, perform EVAs to repair and upgrade it, conduct dozens to hundreds of science experiments, and enjoy the ethereal views.

Falcon 9 B1067 lifts off with four astronauts in tow. (Richard Angle)

Crew-3 astronauts have a number of events to look forward to later in their stay. As early as December 21st, a flight-proven Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft is scheduled to launch and deliver several thousand kilograms of cargo to the ISS. Prior to CRS-24’s arrival, two private Japanese astronauts are on track to launch to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket and spacecraft for a brief stay at the station. Coincidentally, one of those private astronauts – Yusaku Maezawa – is the same Japanese billionaire behind SpaceX’s DearMoon mission, which aims to launch a Starship carrying Maezawa and a dozen or so guests around the Moon as early as 2023.

As early as February 21st, 2022, SpaceX is also scheduled to launch Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, which aims to send the first all-private crew to the ISS for a week-long stay. Two months later, SpaceX will launch four new Crew-4 astronauts, freeing up Crew-3 to board their Dragon and return to Earth after half a year in orbit.

SpaceX Dragon delivers astronauts to space station ahead of schedule
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