Featured Image Source: Ben Cooper @LaunchPhoto via Twitter
SpaceX is preparing to launch the next astronaut crew to the International Space Station (ISS). Crew-4 will be SpaceX’s fourth operational mission under the NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The Crew-4 crewmembers are: NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins, who will share a ride aboard Crew Dragon with European Space Agency (ESA) Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
Crew-4 astronauts are scheduled to launch to the orbiting laboratory on Friday, April 15, from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida [time pending]. SpaceX has demonstrated its Falcon 9 rocket is safe and reliable to launch cargo and crew. The company pushed the boundaries of rocket reusability, it has launched 147 missions, recovered orbital-class rockets 109 times, and reflown first-stage boosters in its Falcon 9 Block 5 fleet 86 times. Three boosters in the fleet have been reused 11 times. The fleet is designed to fly 10 times with minimal inspection between flights and up to 100 times with refurbishment.
SpaceX plans to reuse a thrice-flown Falcon 9 booster to launch Crew-4 astronauts to the orbiting laboratory. It will be the first commercial crew mission to launcu astronauts on a booster's fourth flight. According to NASA Commercial Crew Manager Steve Stich, the agency plans to launch Crew-4 using first-stage booster B1067, which previously launched the company’s 22nd cargo Commercial Resupply Services mission to the orbiting laboratory (CRS-22) in June 2021, then it launched Crew-3 astronauts to the ISS in November 2021, and it deployed Turkey’s Turksat-5B satellite in December 2021. Now, the previously-flown booster will launch the Crew-4 astronauts aboard a brand-new Dragon. Stitch also shared with reporters that the agency is “working on an evolutionary path to fly a booster up to five times” for crewed flights. SpaceX recovers rockets by conducting propulsive landings. The booster that will launch Crew-4 to space is filled with scorch marks from reentering Earth’s atmosphere multiple times, pictured below.
Crew-4 is completing final training for launch. NASA Astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren will serve as SpaceX Crew-4 spacecraft commander and NASA Astronaut Robert (Bob) Hines will serve as pilot. NASA Astronaut Jessica Watkins and ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will serve as SpaceX Crew-4 mission specialists. Their mission at the ISS is expected to be a long-duration mission of around six months.
NASA's Crew-4 astronauts undergo final training at the Kennedy Space Center this past December ahead of their April 15 launch to the International Space Station (L-R: Jessica Watkins; Bob Hines; Cdr. Kjell Lindgren; and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA/Italy). pic.twitter.com/BJ283NlvME— Ben Cooper (@LaunchPhoto) January 28, 2022
SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts (left to right): ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren, and NASA Astronaut Robert Hines. / Source: NASA