NASA and SpaceX successfully launched four more astronauts into low-Earth orbit, on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, November 15. The launch marks the first crew rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft.
Liftoff moved like clockwork at 7:27 PM EST on Sunday from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The crew, consisting of three NASA astronauts and one JAXA astronaut, hitched a ride in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:42 PM EST: SpaceX's Crew Dragon reached 16,777 mph, Stage 2 separates successfully
Successful separation of Crew Dragon’s second stage was confirmed. The next important milestone is the nose cone deployment. Then, at 9:00 PM EST, NASA will hold a post-launch news conference at the Kennedy Space Center, which will stream live on the agency’s YouTube channel.
The Crew-1 mission astronauts will dock Resilience with the ISS on Monday, Nov. 16 at 11:00 PM EST, and the hatch will open at 1:40 AM EST on November 17.
The post-docking news conference will take place at 2:00 AM EST with further updates. Today marked “NASA’s first official long-duration mission” for the Crew-1 program, according to a spokeswoman after the successful launch.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:36 PM EST: Stage 2 separation successful, ‘trajectory is nominal’ says Crew-1 team
After liftoff, the rocket traveled at 262 meters per second, and had increased to 709 meters per second at T-plus one minute. Stage 2 separation was confirmed at T-plus two minutes, and the crew is safely on their journey to the ISS as Stage 2 falls back down to Earth.
“Nominal trajectory,” said Commander Hopkins aboard the Resilience capsule, as the crew heads to low-Earth orbit (LEO). At eight minutes and 48 seconds after liftoff, the first stage ignited to push the crew into low-Earth orbit.
The first stage rocket is on target to land on or near the SpaceX ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The crew passes smoothly past the next abort zone, above Shannon, Ireland. Shutdown of second stage is on time. All is going to plan so far. “Nominal orbit insertion” was a success.
Stage 1 successfully touched down on the drone ship. Next up will be the Dragon spacecraft separation.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:27 PM EST: SpaceX, NASA successfully launched second Crew-1 mission to ISS
SpaceX and NASA successfully launched four astronauts from Kennedy Space Center aboard the Dragon Capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. After a scrubbed attempt on Saturday, the launch was a success today and the Crew-1 mission appears to be going smoothly so far. The ISS is ready for the capsule to dock tomorrow, after the spacecraft’s 27.5 hour-long journey through orbit.
"Not even gravity contains humanity when we explore as one for all," said the NASA spokesperson as Reslient lifted off.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:26 PM EST: Falcon 9 in required pre-launch position
“Everything continues to be go,” said a NASA spokesperson. The last major event was completed without any problems.
One minute to launch.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:22 PM EST: Dragon Capsule on internal power
Water rushed onto the launch pad to minimize the sound of the Falcon 9 rocket as it prepared for liftoff. “Strongback retracting” happened with four minutes to spare before launch, which will retract to 45 degrees from the rocket.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:21 PM EST: ‘Everything looking good’ at less than 10 minutes to liftoff, ground teams say goodbye to crew
Fuel loading was completed in the second stage at ten minutes before liftoff, and stage one engine chill started at T-minus 6 minutes. Liquid oxygen will be loaded until two minutes before liftoff. “Have an amazing trip, and know that we are all for one,” said SpaceX ground team member to the Crew-1 mission crew.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 7:02 PM EST: Fueling Falcon 9 rocket begins, still ‘go for launch’
The Falcon 9 rocket started its propellant loading at T-minus 35 minutes with RP-1 kerosene. Densified liquid oxygen simultaneously began loading into the rocket. The oxidizer is densified liquid oxygen that’s kept much colder, takes up less volume, and allows more fuel to be stored.
Both stages will be filled with liquid oxygen and propellant until launch time.
The propellant, RP-1, combusts instantaneously, and superpowers the Falcon 9’s Draco engines in addition to the eight Superdraco engines — which are held in reserve for an abort scenario. These are kept ready to launch the capsule away from the rocket in an instant to move the capsule away from any issues the rocket might experience.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 6:47 PM EST: Propellant mode 'go/no-go' poll, arming of escape system complete, launch ‘right on time for the countdown’
At T-minus 47 minutes, the propellant "go/no-go" test went ahead. The crew access arm will soon be retracted, and the escape system was armed. At 80% chance of good weather, the launch is looking good.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 6:30 PM EST: ‘Dragon is go for launch,’ SpaceX team enters fueling mode
SpaceX ground crew and Crew-1 discussed cycling pressure checks in the capsule, and these were completed successfully. “Once we get in the propellant loading, we’re committed, we can’t slow down and have to finish up the last 62 minutes,” explained Insprucker, as this is an instantaneous launch.
The words “Dragon is go for launch,” were spoken among the NASA and SpaceX crews. Additionally, the weather continues to cooperate as the team moves into propellant loading.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 6:16 PM EST: Two potential issues resolved, launch still on schedule
At just 1 hour and 11 minutes from launch, everything remains on schedule. The leak checks found a small piece of FOD and added lubricant in the latch, which resolved the issue.
A second issue was discovered just above the first stage of the propellant and the inner tank — which looked like it might be water, showing discoloration. The team double-checked the area and no issues were found. Both potential issues were closed out.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 6:00 PM EST: Countdown checks kick-off, hatch sealed, final leak check passed
“Things are going in the right direction the second time around,” said John Insprucker, SpaceX’s Principal Integration Engineer, at Hawthorne when talking about the latch closure. “We’re still inside of 100 minutes [of launch],” he continued.
More information about what was found during the trouble-shooting will be shared by the ground engineers during the debrief session. One possible reason could be Foreign-Object Debris (FOD), but that has yet to be confirmed.
On the weather front, everything is continuing to cooperate, and the upper-altitude balloons are showing signs of good weather, with just a “thin layer of clouds” around the Kennedy Space Center, said NASA’s Communications Manager. “Leak check has passed,” said the core engineering team, moving along the rest of the preparations to carry out the “First commercially-licensed launch by the FAA,” as a NASA spokesperson said.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 5:31 PM EST: Crew Dragon hatch shut, reopened, closed again due to pressure leak
At T-minus 1 hour and 47 minutes the team hadn’t called out ‘hatch-closure’ because of a pressure drop, causing them to reopen the hatch.
The hatch was reopened to carry out real-time trouble-shooting. This is a simple procedure, and not deemed an issue so far. The team has a margin of 10 minutes for troubleshooting, which won’t necessarily cause a delay, since the team was running ahead of schedule.
“From a crew-safety standpoint, if we could not resolve the issue that would be a scrub issue for today, but it’s premature to say that,” said a NASA spokesperson. No speculations for aborting the mission are being called out yet, and ground crew updated the Crew Dragon astronauts, saying: “Checking cabin environments and getting ready to close the hatch again.”
“Hatch is closed,” was called at T-minus 1 hour 39 minutes, followed by another leak check, which showed no further issues.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 5:04 PM EST: Crew completes communications checks, straps in for launch
“All systems are go,” stated NASA’s commenter as all crew members were buckled into their seats, and connected their suits to the Dragon capsule. The seats will soon rotate into "launch position."
The Crew Dragon capsule consists of a 27-foot-tall trunk, and beneath it sits the bulkhead thrusters.
After liftoff, the crew will take 27.5 hours to arrive at the ISS. During the journey, they’ll grab some shut-eye before waking up tomorrow, when they’ll continue the mission and dock with the ISS to carry on their research in orbit. The hatch closure is scheduled for T-minus 1 hour and 55 minutes.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 4:27 PM EST: SpaceX crew arrives at launchpad on schedule, nearing ingress to Dragon capsule
The crew arrived at the White Room on time, signed the wall — named after the room-wide space for astronaut signatures. In 14 minutes, the crew will ingress — climbing aboard the capsule.
The crew's six-month mission is set to take off in “T-minus 2 hours and 39 minutes,” stated NASA’s commenter. The team is halfway through the process of boarding the Crew Dragon, and is running ahead of schedule. This marks the last place on Earth for the next half-year the team will have its feet on the ground.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 4:13 PM EST: Final touch-ups, crew makes its way to the launchpad in Tesla vehicles
The advance team is making final preparations on the launch pad. All spacesuit checks were completed as the crew walked out of the Center in a row of smiles.
Practicing social distancing, the crew’s immediate family members were present at the Center to wish the astronauts a farewell.
Regardless of COVID-19 restrictions, family members have to keep a distance from the crew ahead of the launch. The crew departed for the pad right on schedule in a convoy of Teslas, heading to launchpad 39A.
Weather is still at 50/50, “not better, but not worse,” NASA said.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 3:57 PM: NASA reviews 20 years of humans on ISS
This year “[c]elebrates 20 years of nearly continuous human presence on the ISS,” said the NASA Kennedy Space Center live stream. The team at NASA reminisced about the initial ISS crewed missions ahead of the launch.
Much like Expedition 1 — 20 years ago — today’s Crew-1 mission is a frontier mission. Both launches involved years of work before liftoff could move forward.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 3:50 PM EST: Weather cooperating, crew bonding amid COVID-19 restrictions
Restrictions placed on human contact due to the coronavirus crisis means surprisingly helped the crew bond throughout their training like no other team has before. The team could only see each other, and would eat all meals together.
This will be the first four-person commercial crew spaceflight. Glover will be the first Black astronaut to go on a long-duration spaceflight, among a number of other firsts.
The weather is cooperating right now, and we're “T-minus 3 hours, 38 minutes” to launch at Kennedy Space Center, according to the live stream.
UPDATE Nov. 15, 3:27 PM EST: Crew-1 astronauts arrive in suit-up room, preparations for launch begin
Inside the astronaut crew quarters at the Kennedy Space Center, the SpaceX team is helping the astronauts suit up. All four astronauts are lying back in seat recliners, which are GSE chairs. These chairs are similar to those that are in the Crew Dragon Capsule and are used on the ground to ensure all parts of the suit are working exactly as they will be once in the capsule.
Notably, some of the dishes the crew enjoyed prior to today’s launch include steak, cheeseburger, curry rice, curly fries, and lamb chops.
So far, launch weather is still looking good and everyone is moving forward to liftoff.
SpaceX's Crew-1 mission launching after 24-hour delay
The success of the flight depends on the weather, which didn't comply on Saturday — causing a 24-hour delay as wind power was too high.
Update: Due to onshore winds and recovery operations, @NASA and @SpaceX are targeting launch of the Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the @Space_Station at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 15. The first stage booster is planned to be reused to fly astronauts on Crew-2. #LaunchAmerica— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) November 13, 2020
If for any reason the launch can't go ahead this evening it will be postponed until Wednesday, per the BBC.
Crew-1 mission making space flight history
Today's launch marks the second real-world test of this launch system. Back in May, a successful demo flight of the same system took place with two NASA astronauts aboard.
Everything went according to plan, and now — a few days after NASA officially certified SpaceX — the second launch of its kind is taking place.
Background information on the astronauts
The four astronauts rocketing to orbit tonight are Commander Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker — all three NASA astronauts — in addition to JAXA's Soichi Noguchi, from Japan.
This will mark Glover's first spaceflight and a return to the ISS for his other three crewmates, all of whom will spend six months in orbit for the duration of the mission.
The four astronauts have named their ride, the Crew Dragon Capsule, 'Resilience,' and will conduct hundreds of microgravity studies during their mission.
SpaceX, NASA's launch logistics
SpaceX's recovery ship, "Just Read the Instructions" is in the Atlantic Ocean, sitting tight for its planned recovery attempt. Roughly nine minutes after liftoff, the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket's first stage booster is due to touch down on the deck of the ship, Space.com reports.
The space company's recovery ships for its Dragon Capsule — GO Quest, GO Searcher, and GO Navigator — were also sent to sea, and have assumed various positions near Florida. If an in-flight abort has to happen, these ships are at-the-ready.
SpaceX plans to reuse this first stage booster, in addition to the Dragon Capsule for its Crew-2 mission, scheduled for March 30th.
Currently, the chances for liftoff tonight are "50/50" per the Launch Mission Execution Forecast, with primary concerns consisting of, "Cumulus cloud rule, flight through precipitation, and Surface Electric Field Rule."
SpaceX is in charge of today's launch with NASA standing close by for any assistance.
All systems are go for tonight’s launch at 7:27 p.m. EST of Crew Dragon’s first operational mission with four astronauts on board. Teams are keeping an eye on weather conditions for liftoff, which are currently 50% favorable → https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK pic.twitter.com/GTpvVAiLkK— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 15, 2020
Ask NASA and SpaceX launch questions using #LaunchAmerica
The hashtag #LaunchAmerica is booming on social media. Anyone with questions, thoughts, and experiences of NASA and SpaceX's launch may find answers or score a mention with the hashtag.
We can also add to the fun with a specially-made Instagram filter, which virtually places users in NASA's Kennedy Space Center. NASA astronaut Glover took part in the fun and posted his own virtual experience:
Crew-1 pilot @AstroVicGlover tried our #LaunchAmerica @Instagram filter and he wants you to try it, too!— NASA (@NASA) November 15, 2020
Click the link to put yourself at @NASAKennedy virtually – and show us your looks. 😎 https://t.co/t9fSjW15P8 pic.twitter.com/DnEFMUYSkF
What to expect from Sunday's Crew-1 Mission launch
NASA is providing continuous coverage of more than 30 hours that covers the prelaunch, launch, docking, and arrival activities for today's crew rotation flight aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon 'Resilience' capsule is due to dock with the ISS on Monday, Nov. 16, at roughly 11:00 PM EST.