NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has confirmed the exact date of Crew Dragon’s return is pending favourable weather forecasts. The SpaceX capsule has been docked to the ISS since May 31, marking the first time US astronauts flew into orbit aboard a private spacecraft. Weather permitting, the Crew Dragon will undock from the orbital laboratory on August 1.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, 49, and Doug Hurley, 53, will then splashdown in the Atlantic on August 2.
Mr Bridenstine tweeted on Friday: “NEWS: We’re targeting an Aug. 1 departure of @SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour spacecraft from the @Space_Station to bring @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug home after their historic #LaunchAmerica mission.
“Splashdown is targeted for Aug. 2. Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned.”
The SpaceX and NASA mission, dubbed Demo-2, launched to the ISS on May 30.
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Watched by millions of fans worldwide, the launch marked the return of crewed spaceflight to US soil.
Since 2011 and the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the US space agency has relied on its Russian counterpart Roscosmos to fly crews into orbit.
However, the partnership cost NASA up to £72million ($ 90million) per astronaut aboard Russia’s Soyuz rockets.
NASA has instead opted to pursue commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to design, build and test a new generation of American spacecraft.
Both companies received multi-billion dollar contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew programme.
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We’re targeting an Aug. 1 departure of @SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is not yet complete and was hit with setbacks last year.
When the capsule launched on its first uncrewed flight into orbit, a timing glitch prevented the spacecraft from reaching the ISS.
Boeing officials said a second uncrewed test flight will be carried out before astronauts take the helm in 2021.
SpaceX carried out a similar uncrewed test flight in March 2019, passing it with flying colours.
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SpaceX news: The Crew Dragon docked to the ISS on May 31
SpaceX launch: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (left to right)
Crew Dragon, since renamed Dragon Endeavour, then launched to the ISS with its first crew on top of SpaceX’s signature Falcon 9 booster rocket on May 30, 2020.
Once the spacecraft is back on Earth and cleared for its next mission, Crew-1, the Dragon is expected to launch again on August 30.
On July 16, the Falcon 9 booster for the Crew-1 mission arrived at NASA’s Florida base.
Crew-1 will carry NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
NASA said: “The mission will be the second time SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will ferry astronauts to the space station, but the first in a series of regular, rotational missions.
“The company successfully flew NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station in May on another Crew Dragon – Endeavour – on a test flight known as Demo-2. Behnken and Hurley will continue to perform science, maintenance and spacewalks onboard station until their return to Earth.
“The SpaceX Crew Dragon for Crew-1 will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“The rocket was shipped from the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas, and will now undergo prelaunch processing in the company’s facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.”