SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule swaps docking ports on the space station – Spaceflight Now

The Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft approaches to dock at the International Space Station on Monday. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

On the final stretch of nearly half a year on the International Space Station, four astronauts dressed up and traveled in their SpaceX-owned Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft to a new docking port outside the orbiting research lab on Monday. A gentle maneuvering novelty for the new generation of commercial crew spacecraft.

The maneuver paves the way for the arrival of the next SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the space station later this month, and prepares for the docking of a Dragon freighter in June with a new pair of solar panels to upgrade the power system. from the outpost.

Commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Soichi Noguchi and Shannon Walker donned their SpaceX-made pressure garments and boarded their Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft early Monday. All four astronauts were aboard the Crew Dragon, which also serves as a lifeboat, for the relocation maneuver in case problems prevented the spacecraft from reconnecting with the space station, forcing an early return to Earth. .

After closing the hatches between their capsule and the space station, the astronauts set up their cockpit displays as ground crews took a final “step” for the relocation maneuver.

The capsule detached from the forward docking port on the space station’s Harmony module at 6:30 a.m. EDT (1030 GMT) and ignited its Draco thrusters to recoil to a range of more than 200 feet, or 60 meters.

After ensuring that the Dragon’s laser navigation system had a good lock on the space station, mission control gave Hopkins the green light to send a command for the spacecraft to reposition from the forward docking shaft of the station to an approach corridor on the complex.

The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft performed the flyover maneuver in autopilot mode. Once the capsule lined up with Harmony’s upper docking port or zenith, Hopkins issued another order for Crew Dragon to begin an autonomous final approach back to the station.

The spacecraft re-docked to the station at 7:08 a.m. EDT (1108 GMT), completing a 38-minute relocation maneuver that was the first of its kind for a commercial crew vehicle.

Russian Soyuz crew capsules have been transferred to different berths 19 times in the history of the International Space Station program. Unlike the Crew Dragon, Soyuz spacecraft are manually relocated with manual inputs from Russian cosmonauts.

“SpaceX, Houston, Resilience, congratulations on the successful relocation of the port,” Hopkins radioed from the Crew Dragon spacecraft. “We have leak checks to do, but a great capacity that will really improve the options here for the International Space Station, so congratulations.”

Spaceship relocations are useful for mission planners to open docking ports for different types of visiting crews and cargo vehicles.

The astronauts planned to re-enter the space station later Monday morning to resume normal work.

The Hopkins crew launched on November 15 aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which they named Resilience, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, kicking off the first fully operational flight of a crew capsule. SpaceX. Their mission, known as Crew-1, docked with the International Space Station the next day.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who was aboard the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft when it changed docking ports last month, said last week that the relocation “is not just a pleasure trip.”

“It’s all the fun and work of the docking day, plus all the fun and work of the docking day,” Rubins said, speaking of the recent experience. “It is a lot of activity. But it’s very cool, and it’s an amazing sight to detach from your vehicle that has been your home for months and be able to look at it from 60 meters. “

Monday’s relocation paves the way for the SpaceX crew’s next mission to dock to the forward position on the Harmony module. SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission, launching April 22 from the Kennedy Space Center, will carry Commander Shane Kimbrough, pilot Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

Astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi donned their SpaceX pressure suits for a fit check last week in preparation for the relocation of the Crew Dragon “Resilience” spacecraft off the International Space Station. Credit: NASA / JAXA

Hopkins and his fellow crew members are scheduled to end their mission on April 28 with an exit from the space station and a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, culminating in a parachute-assisted landing off the coast of Florida.

Its undocking on April 28 will clear the upper port of the Harmony module for the arrival of the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission scheduled for launch on June 3. NASA wants the Dragon cargo ship to dock at Harmony’s overhead port, within reach of the space station. Canadian-built robotic arm that will pull a new pair of solar panels from the Dragon’s trunk to upgrade the orbiting lab’s power system.

“We have some pretty big milestones coming up, so let’s not take our foot off the gas and make sure we keep our eyes on the ball,” Hopkins said Friday.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ EstebanClark1.

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