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SpaceX and NASA have launched a new crew of astronauts on a mission to the International Space Station, beginning an approximately six-month stay in space.
The mission – which is carrying two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates – lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 12:34 a.m. ET Thursday.
The Crew Dragon, the vehicle carrying the astronauts, detached from the rocket after reaching orbit, and it is expected to spend about a day maneuvering in space before docking with the space station. The capsule is scheduled to dock at 1:17 a.m. ET on Friday.
Thursday’s launch marked the second attempt to get the mission, called Crew-6, off the ground. The first launch attempt was blocked on Monday by what officials said was a clogged filter.
During the launch broadcast, officials had reported that ground systems engineers made the decision to abort the launch with less than three minutes on the clock. Engineers said they detected a problem with a substance called triethylaluminum triethylboron, or TEA-TEB, a highly combustible fluid used to ignite the Falcon 9 rocket engines on liftoff.
The problem occurred during the “purge” process, which aims to ensure that each of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine engines will be fueled with enough TEA-TEB fluid at ignition. The problem arose when the fluid moved from a ground holding tank to a “scavenge tank”, according to NASA.
“After extensive data and ground system review, NASA and SpaceX have determined that there is reduced flow to the ground-based TEA-TEB capture tank due to a clogged ground filter,” according to a report. NASA update posted on its website early Wednesday. .
The clogged filter explained anomalous data engineers saw on launch day, NASA said.
Benji Reed, director of crew mission management for SpaceX, said reviews of the data revealed the rocket likely would have lifted off without a hitch despite the clogged filter, although flight controllers did not have enough of data during the countdown to be certain.
“That’s not how we want to launch people,” Reed said at a post-launch press conference on Thursday. “We want people to know for sure that everything will be fine.”
The TEA-TEB system performed very well on Thursday, officials said, although engineers had to address at least one irregularity after takeoff.
A problem has arisen with a sensor on one of the six hooks used to hold the Crew Dragon’s nose cone, a cap on top of the spacecraft that protects ISS docking hardware during launch. But the Crew Dragon was able to use a backup system to open the nose cone.
The hook is also used when the spacecraft locks onto the ISS, securing the vehicle to its docking port. But the sensor shouldn’t be a problem because there are additional sensors to provide data, Reed said.
This mission marks SpaceX’s seventh astronaut flight on behalf of NASA since 2020, continuing the public-private effort to keep the lab fully in orbit.
The Crew-6 team on board includes NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen, a veteran of three space shuttle missions, and first-time flyer Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as Sultan Alneyadi, who is the second astronaut of the United Arab Emirates to travel in space. , and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Once Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and Alneyadi are aboard the space station, they will work to resume operations for SpaceX Crew-5 astronauts who arrived at the space station in October 2022.
They are expected to spend up to six months aboard the orbiting laboratory, performing science experiments and maintaining the two-decade-old station.
The mission comes as astronauts currently on the space station struggle with a separate transportation problem. In December, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had been used to ferry cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the space station caused a coolant leak. After the capsule was deemed unsafe for returning astronauts, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency launched a replacement vehicle on February 23. He arrived at the space station on Saturday.
During their time in space, the astronauts of Crew-6 will oversee more than 200 science and technology projects, including research into the combustion of certain substances in the microgravity environment and microbial samples that will be collected at the space station exterior.
The crew will host two other key missions that will stop at the space station during their stay. The first is the Boeing Crew Flight Test, which will mark the first astronaut mission under a Boeing-NASA partnership. Scheduled for April, the flight will carry NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams to the space station, marking the final phase of a test and demonstration program Boeing must complete to certify its Starliner spacecraft for missions. routine of astronauts.
Then, in May, a group of four astronauts are scheduled to arrive on Axiom Mission 2, or AX-2 for short – a privately funded spaceflight to the space station. The initiative, which will deploy a separate SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will be commanded by Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who is now a private astronaut with Texas-based space company Axiom, which brokered and organized the mission.
It will also include three paying customers, similar to Axiom Mission 1, which visited the space station in April 2022, including the first Saudi astronauts to visit the orbital lab. Their seats were paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Boeing CFT and AX-2 mission will be milestones, Bowen said in January.
“It’s another paradigm shift,” he said. “These two events – huge events – in spaceflight occurring during our augmentation, in addition to all the other work we need to do, I don’t think we will be able to fully absorb before the fact.”
Russian cosmonaut Fedyaev joined the Crew-6 team under a carpool agreement signed in 2022 between NASA and Roscosmos. The agreement aims to ensure continued access to the space station for both Roscosmos and NASA: if the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule or the Russian Soyuz spacecraft used to transport people there encounters difficulties and is taken out of service, its counterpart can handle getting astronauts from both countries into orbit.
This flight marks Fedyaev’s first mission in space.
Despite lingering geopolitical tensions spurred by its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia remains the United States’ main partner on the space station. NASA officials have repeatedly said the conflict has had no impact on cooperation between the countries’ space agencies.
“Space cooperation has a very long history, and we are setting an example of how people should live on Earth,” Fedyaev said at a Jan. 24 press briefing.
Bowen, the 59-year-old NASA astronaut who will serve as Crew-6 mission commander, also weighed in.
“I’ve been working and training with cosmonauts for over 20 years now, and it’s always been amazing,” he said during the briefing. “Once you get into space, there’s only one crew, one vehicle, and we all have the same goal.”
Bowen grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and studied engineering, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1986 and a master’s degree in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in 1993.
He also underwent military submarine training and served in the United States Navy before being selected for NASA’s astronaut corps in 2000, becoming the first submarine officer to be chosen by the space agency. .
He previously flew three missions between 2008 and 2011, as part of NASA’s space shuttle program, logging a total of more than 47 days in space.
“”I just hope my body retains the memory of 12 years ago so I can enjoy it,” Bowen said of the Crew-6 launch.
Hoburg, who serves as the pilot for this mission, is a Pittsburgh native who earned a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, before becoming an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. He joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017.
“We are going to live in space for six months. I think back to six months ago and I think — OK, that’s a long time,” Hoburg told reporters of his expectations for the trip.
But, Hoburg added, “I’m looking forward to that first glimpse of the cupola,” referring to the well-known area of the space station that features a large window with a panoramic view of Earth.
Alneyadi, who served as the 2019 replacement for Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first UAE astronaut to go into orbit, is now set to become the first UAE astronaut to complete a long-term stay in space.
At a press conference in January, Alneyadi said he planned to bring Middle Eastern food to share with his teammates while in space. A trained jiujitsu practitioner, he will also wear a kimono, the traditional martial art uniform.
“It’s hard to believe this is really happening,” Alneyadi said at a news conference after arriving at Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 21. “I can’t ask for more from a team. I think we are ready, physically, mentally and technically.