SpaceX’s first full crew of astronauts successfully maneuvered their Crew Dragon spacecraft to a new port on the International Space Station on Monday. It was the first time the vehicle had attempted the maneuver.
Called a port relocation, the process required the spacecraft to move away from the ISS port where it had been since arriving at the orbital lab in November, then fly to a different, space-oriented port and dock there instead. Russian Soyuz vehicles have performed port relocation maneuvers 15 times in the past, but no astronaut has ever done so in a commercial spacecraft before.
The reorganization of the spacecraft cleared the way for SpaceX’s next Crew Dragon capsule to reach the ISS. That mission, called Crew-2, will launch on April 22 and will bring four more astronauts to the space station.
The four astronauts from the mission currently in orbit, Crew-1, will return to Earth about five days after Crew-2’s arrival. In overlap time, there will be two Crew Dragons attached to the ISS, and a crowded house of 11 people in space.
Now that NASA is commissioning regular astronaut flights from SpaceX and Russia’s Soyuz launch system, the ISS is expected to get busier on a regular basis. Future Crew Dragons will likely need to switch ports too, especially if Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft joins the mix later this year. SpaceX and Boeing developed their spacecraft through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition intended to stimulate the development of commercial alternatives to Soyuz.
“The space station has become the spaceport we want it to be, with vehicles flying into it and returning science and payloads and doing amazing things in orbit,” said Kathy Leuders, NASA associate administrator for exploration and human operations. , at a press conference in March. .
Watch the Crew Dragon change parking spots
In preparation for the port relocation, Crew-1 astronauts Michael Hopkins, NASA’s Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi donned their spacesuits early Monday morning. Spacesuits are required for docking and undocking maneuvers, in case something goes wrong and the spacecraft cockpit is compromised.
SpaceX also had a recovery ship stationed near the landing sites in the Atlantic Ocean, in case the Crew Dragon had to deorbit and return to Earth.
But everything seemed to be going well. The astronauts boarded the Crew Dragon capsule, which they called “Resilience,” checked for air pressure leaks, and then instructed the spacecraft to begin the fully automated maneuver. The hooks holding Resilience attached to the space station’s forward port were retracted at 6:30 a.m. ET, undocking the spacecraft from the ISS. The vehicle then fired its thrusters to back up.
For the next 30 minutes, while circling Earth at about 5 miles per second, Resilience hovered above the ISS and aligned itself with the station’s zenith port looking into space. It docked there at 7:08 am ET.
NASA broadcast the maneuver in the following video. Undocking begins at approximately 30:45.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her Russian colleagues Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov also conducted their own port relocation on March 19. Port. That leaves the former open for the next Soyuz spacecraft to bring in three more astronauts on April 9.
However, unlike Crew Dragon, Soyuz has to be maneuvered manually.
After Crew-1 returns to Earth, an unmanned Cargo Dragon spacecraft carrying new solar panels for the ISS will take its place in the zenith harbor.