NASA, SpaceX Delay Next Crew Dragon Launch

The launch of the next crewed mission for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has been delayed from its original October 31 launch date to early- to mid-November, according to a news release posted on NASA’s website. SpaceX will use the extra time to perform additional hardware tests and data reviews.

Dance With Historical Deja Vu on Demo-2 Flight

SpaceX had previously announced that it resolved an issue with the heat shield from the previous crewed flight, Demo-2, which went by the call sign of “Endeavour”. Technicians inspecting the spacecraft discovered a greater than expected amount of wear and tear in the area where the crew module had been attached to the trunk containing engines used to maneuver the spacecraft while in orbit. The trunk is jettisoned before reentry.

For some longtime space enthusiasts, the issue may have brought back memories of the John Glenn’s Friendship 7 flight for the Mercury program, in which a signal caused concern about the condition of the heat shield. Flight controllers decided to keep the retro-rockets attached to the spacecraft in an attempt to keep the heat shield bolted in place. Although John Glenn referred to the visual effect of the heat produced by reentry as “a real fireball,” the supposed heat shield problem turned out to be a faulty signal.

NASA Unconcerned About Delay

NASA expressed confidence that SpaceX could resolve its current issues with the Crew Dragon and the space agency has access to all of SpaceX’s data. The company is simply pinning down an issue with an engine gas generator in the first stage booster used for a recent launch. Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human exploration and operations mission directorate, said of the issue:

“With the high cadence of missions SpaceX performs, it really gives us incredible insight into this commercial system and helps us make informed decisions about the status of our missions. The teams are actively working this finding on the engines, and we should be a lot smarter within the coming week.”

SpaceX’s remaining uncrewed launches remain on track for the rest of the year. On November 10, SpaceX is slated to launch the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite for the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation program. This launch will provide additional data to ensure that the issue with the engine gas generator is resolved.

Once ready to launch, the Crew Dragon will deliver astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi to join Expedition 64 to the International Space Station. The crew recently announced that “Resilience” will be the call sign for their spacecraft while in flight.

Crew commander Michael Hopkins referred to “performing well in times of stress” while acknowledging that 2020 has been a challenging year for many people, including the employees of NASA and its contractors. Some of NASA’s ongoing programs have faced delays due to difficulty in making progress in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Although a new target launch date has not yet been set, the crew anticipates that the Crew Dragon “Resilience” will perform well when it finally launches in November.