Crew-2 is on target for an April deployment, but the next Starliner flight has been postponed

NASA officials announced on March 1 that the upcoming SpaceX commercial crew launch to the International Space Station will take place in late April and that a Boeing uncrewed flight test will be postponed even further. The Crew-2 mission, which will use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship to transport space-explorers from the European Space Agency, NASA, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to the International Space Station, is still on schedule to release no earlier than April 20, according to the agency officials.

The launch date could be moved back a few days “to better refine a few of orbital mechanics as well as launch opportunities,” according to NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Steve Stich. The agency is attempting to plan the flight between the departure of Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft in mid-April as well as a “beta cutout” in the month of May when sun angles limit ISS activities. The return of Crew-1 flight on the Crew Dragon, which is presently docked to the station, must also be factored into the schedule. The goal, according to Stich, would be to have the spaceship return to Earth by May 9 in order to prevent “dark landing prospects” for the splashdown.

Despite the failure of a Merlin engine on the Falcon 9 launch on February 15 that stopped the booster from landing, neither SpaceX nor NASA see any significant obstacles to deploying in late April. At the meeting, Benji Reed, who is the senior director in charge of human spaceflight activities at SpaceX, stated, “All is on schedule and set for an April 20 deployment preparation date.” Crew-2 will become the third Crew Dragon mission to carry explorers and the first to recycle the spaceship. Crew-2’s Crew Dragon capsule operated the Demo-2 mission in 2020, and staff has been renovating it for the forthcoming flight for a few months.

SpaceX has been partnering with NASA on the renovation process, deciding which parts need to be upgraded and which can be left in order to ensure crew protection. “I am pleased to announce that the large bulk of the vehicle has been flight-tested,” Reed said. According to him, some valves and parts of the thermal protection system are being replaced, as well as parachutes, which are replaced after each flight. “Aside from that, it’s the same vehicle that has been thoroughly inspected, meticulously prepared and renovated as required, and is ready to fly.”

SpaceX has also “tweaked” the spacecraft’s design to increase the appropriate wind speeds as well as wave heights for the splashdown, allowing for further landing options. He stated, “This is among the essential updates we’ve completed on this Dragon.”