In the days of the Space Shuttle, similar overflight maneuvers were extremely common as the United States and Russia slowly but steadily assembled the ISS from scratch in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – serving primarily to document this undeniably historical process. In 2011, NASA and Roscosmos planned what would become the last flyby in seven years to capture the Discovery Shuttle on its last mission (also the first of the shuttle’s last three launches) and the more or less completed space station. While the occasional partial flyby still occurred during rare spacecraft relocation maneuvers, it would be over seven years before the next flyby – still by a Soyuz spacecraft – was completed in October 2018, capturing excellent photos. of the ISS before its 20th anniversary in orbit. .
Now, more than three years after the Soyuz MS-08 flyby, SpaceX is expected to continue the tradition as early as November 2021, making Crew Dragon the third of three crewed tour vehicles to conduct a full survey of the ~ 450 ton flyby. (million -lb) orbital outpost.
Unless plans change, Crew Dragon Endeavor (C206) will perform the maneuver immediately after undocking from the space station for the second time (including a relocation maneuver) with ESA Crew-2 astronaut Thomas Pesquet, the JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur. According to the Aerospace Safety Advisory Group (ASAP) meeting where news of the flyby was first announced, the departure of the Crew-2 ISS remains on track to occur from start to mid- November.
Within 5-6 weeks until then, SpaceX is expected to undock the Cargo Dragon 2 C208 spacecraft and return it to Earth, completing the CRS-23 resupply mission and the second trip of the C208 capsule to orbit and freeing the one of the two of the ISS. American mooring ports. Next, SpaceX is expected to launch another batch of astronauts to the ISS as part of Crew Dragon’s third operational crew transfer mission (Crew-3). Crew-3 remains on track for early launch (NET) on October 31, where it and astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer will briefly join Crew-2 and their Dragon on the ISS.
When the transfer is complete, Crew-2 and Dragon Endeavor will then be free to leave the ISS, perform the first 360-degree flyby in years, and return to Earth after more than six months in orbit. Due to years of continued technical and programmatic delays, Boeing – the other business partner of NASA’s crew – is unlikely to be ready to support operational astronaut launches before the end of 2022 in August. sooner, probably ensuring that one or even two more Dragon-to-Dragon crew transfers will happen before Starliner can give Dragon a break. SpaceX, in other words, is on its own to ensure continued NASA access to the International Space Station on its own for two full years – and possibly longer.