NASA sets busy crew schedule for ISS in 2023
More humans in space! A series of three crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) are now on NASA’s books for 2023. And it includes the first crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner. Also on the calendar are a pair of personnel transport missions aboard a trusty SpaceX craft.
In fact, the Crew-6 mission assigned to SpaceX for February 2023 will mark the 7th time a Dragon capsule will deliver spacefarers to the ISS. Most recently, members of Crew-4 flew the Dragon Freedom back to Earth on October 14, 2022, after 170 days in space. That particular crew of space farers departed the ISS following the arrival of Crew-5 on the Dragon Endurance on October 5.
The replacements for Crew-5 will arrive at the space station in mid-February 2023, around Valentine’s Day, NASA said:
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch Dragon and NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev to the space station from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
After a quick handover period to orient the Crew-6 team, Crew-5 will return to Earth.
SpaceX’s ISS frequent flier
By the way, the ship scheduled to carry Crew-6 has already been to the ISS three times, NASA said:
The Crew-6 mission will be Dragon Endeavour’s 4th flight to the space station, which previously supported the Demo-2, Crew-2, and Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) missions, making the spacecraft the fleet leader in number of flights to and from the station. The Dragon spacecraft currently is undergoing refurbishment at SpaceX’s Dragonland facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Next year will also see a second crewed mission to the ISS for SpaceX and NASA. Crew-7 will follow on the heels of Crew-6 sometime in the autumn of 2023.
Starliner to carry a crew, finally
Then, two months after SpaceX delivers the personnel of Crew-6, Boeing will launch the first crewed flight test of its CST-100 Starliner. NASA moved the experimental launch to April to avoid a traffic jam at the station. The Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The Starliner flew for the first time in May 2022. It was the 3rd time Boeing attempted to reach the ISS with the craft. A 1st attempt failed due to an engine misfire, while the 2nd attempt was scrubbed when a set of propulsion valves failed.
In typical rocket scientist jargon, the space agency said it thinks a team of NASA and Boeing techs have the bugs worked out:
The joint team continues to close out the OFT-2 anomalies and partner closely together to identify forward work and ensure all requirements for crewed flight are met. NASA and Boeing currently are working on a variety of verification efforts across several critical systems that will be used for Starliner’s crew flight certification.
Starliner crew ready to go
While the Starliner can carry up to seven passengers to orbit, only two will be at the controls when it launches this spring. The pair, along with an understudy, continue to prep for the mission:
NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams, CFT’s commander and pilot, respectively, and Mike Fincke, backup spacecraft test pilot, along with the Boeing team, also successfully completed the crew validation test during which the astronauts suited up and tested out the pressurized crew module to ensure seat fit, suit functionality, cabin temperature, audio system and day of launch operations.
Wilmore and Williams will spend two weeks at the ISS. A successful test flight will enable NASA and Boeing to schedule the Starliner-1 mission to carry four astronauts and cargo to the ISS.
Bottom line: NASA has scheduled three commercial crew flights to the International Space Station in 2023.