Next Commercial Crew Flight Delayed Due to Damaged SpaceX Rocket

NASA and SpaceX delayed launch of Crew-5 due to a Falcon 9 booster that was damaged in transport. The launch is now set for no earlier than September 29.

Crew-5 is the fifth operational flight in NASA’s Commercial Crew program and will reuse the “Endurance” Crew Dragon. SpaceX was the first private aerospace company to create a fully operational spacecraft for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

Boeing gained ground with a successful uncrewed test of the Starliner in May 2022. NASA added flights to SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Dragon and transferred astronauts to the Crew Dragon to account for delays in the Starliner and possible fallout from diplomatic tensions with Russia. When both the Starliner and the Crew Dragon are operational, they will essentially take turns ferrying International Space Station crews to the space station.

According to a statement from NASA, SpaceX is currently replacing a damaged interstage and instruments on the booster. SpaceX and NASA teams are also thoroughly inspecting the booster to ensure that it will be ready to fly by September 29.

When the repairs are complete, the booster will make its first flight. NASA says that four Draco engines will be reused on a NASA flight for the first time. The Crew Dragon uses the Draco engines to control its orientation and make altitude adjustments.

When Crew-5 is finally ready to fly, it will send NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA’s  Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina to the International Space Station for an increment, or “Expedition,” that typically lasts 5-6 months. Anna Kikina is flying with this crew as part of a recently finalized deal with Roscosmos. Fellow cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev will fly on the Crew Dragon in Spring 2023.

Meanwhile, Russia’s next Soyuz mission, Soyuz MS-22, is scheduled to launch on September 21. It will ferry Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the International Space Station and return to Earth with cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsakov, and Denis Matveev.

Despite some heated rhetoric from Russian officials that included threats against SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and threats to deorbit the International Space Station, Russia shows little interest in actually ending its participation in the International Space Station. NASA’s Commercial Crew program ensures the United States’ continued access to the space station even amid Russian taunts about “trampolines” and “broomsticks,” which Elon Musk make sharp retorts to in the wake of the Crew Dragon’s continued success.

SpaceX also has an agreement to use the Cargo Dragon to send supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station. Its most recent cargo delivery included the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, which will be mounted to the station’s exterior and study the ways that atmospheric dust interacts with worldwide ecosystems. It also included important equipment like an EVA suit that will replace one that leaked water during a recent spacewalk. The cargo mission had been delayed due to a hydrazine leak but successfully launched on July 14.