ORLANDO, Fla. – The launch of the NASA SpaceX Crew-3 mission has been delayed to Monday night at the earliest as the space agency debates whether to return Crew-2 from the space station beforehand.
The decision to delay the early Saturday launch from Florida’s Space Coast, announced Thursday afternoon, comes amid weather considerations for both launch and recovery operations, NASA said.
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The earliest possible opportunity for Crew-2 undocking from the space station is 1:05 p.m. Sunday to begin the return trip to Earth for splashdown off the coast of Florida. A backup undocking opportunity also is available Monday, Nov. 8.
The earliest possible opportunity for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 launch is 9:51 p.m. Monday, if mission teams do not pursue Crew-2 return on Sunday or Monday.
Mission teams will make a final decision on whether to prioritize Crew-3′s launch or Crew-2′s return in the coming days based on weather conditions for a Crew Dragon splashdown or Crew Dragon launch. NASA and SpaceX also are reviewing the time needed between launch or return operations.
If a Monday launch were scheduled, the primary operational concern is strong winds at the pad and unfavorable conditions down range, NASA said.
Along with @SpaceX, we are continuing to review launch and return opportunities for the upcoming crew rotation flights to and from the @Space_Station.— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) November 4, 2021
Teams are now considering whether to return Crew-2 ahead of launching the next crew rotation: https://t.co/474jXj9eCq pic.twitter.com/CbaN3hJxqu
“These are dynamic and complex decisions that change day by day,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “The weather in November can be especially challenging, so our goal is to move forward on the plan with the highest probability of mission assurance and crew safety.”
The agency continues to monitor a minor medical issue involving one of the Crew-3 astronauts, which is expected to be cleared prior to launch.
The Crew-3 flight will carry NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander; Tom Marshburn, pilot; and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, to the space station for a six-month science mission, staying aboard until about late April 2022.
The Crew-2 flight will return to Earth with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement. Additional analysis could allow the spacecraft to remain in orbit for longer, if necessary.