Damaged SpaceX Rocket Delays NASA’s Next Astronaut Mission


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Endurance Crew Dragon mounted on top, prior to the Crew-3 mission that launched on November 11, 2021. Endurance is scheduled to perform its second crewed flight during the now-delayed Crew-5 mission.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Endurance Crew Dragon mounted on top, prior to the Crew-3 mission that launched on November 11, 2021. Endurance is scheduled to perform its second crewed flight during the now-delayed Crew-5 mission.
Photo: SpaceX

Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station has been pushed back by nearly a month due to a Falcon 9 booster getting damaged during transport.

The Crew-5 mission—the fifth of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program—will now launch no earlier than September 29. The launch was supposed to get off the ground in early September, which means the mission has been delayed by nearly a month. The revised schedule will allow SpaceX to “complete hardware processing,” according to a NASA statement.

SpaceX is in the midst of preparing a Falcon 9 booster for its maiden voyage, but a hiccup along the way has resulted in some extra work and the change of scheduling, as NASA explained:

SpaceX is removing and replacing the rocket’s interstage and some onboard instrumentation after the hardware was damaged during transport from SpaceX’s production factory in Hawthorne, California, to the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas for stage testing. SpaceX teams completed – and NASA teams reviewed – load, shock, and structural analyses, coupled with detailed and X-ray inspections, to verify the damage was isolated to the interstage and ensure the integrity of the rest of the booster.

So, that doesn’t sound like a big problem. That said, it’s not clear when the damage occurred or what happened during transport that caused the unflown booster to get damaged. Upon replacement of the damaged hardware, the booster will undergo further tests in advance of flight certification. The trusty and reusable Falcon 9 rocket is the first and only commercial rocket certified for delivering NASA astronauts to the ISS.

The delayed launch means Russia’s crewed Soyuz MS-22 mission, currently scheduled to launch on September 21, will reach the ISS before Crew-5. The capsule will deliver Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the orbital lab. Soyuz MS-21 will then return cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsakov, and Denis Matveev to the surface.

Crew-5 consists of NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA’s Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. Rubio and Kikina are part of a recent seat-swap agreement between NASA and Roscosmos.

Crew Dragon Endurance at the ISS.

Crew Dragon Endurance at the ISS.
Photo: NASA

Kikina will make history by becoming the first Russian cosmonaut to ride aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. She’ll ride aboard Endurance, a Crew Dragon that flew previously during the Crew-3 mission from November 11, 2021 to May 6, 2022. Endurance is currently undergoing refurbishment at SpaceX’s processing facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Teams are installing new components, including the heat shield, parachutes, and pod panels. Crew-5 will be unique in that it’ll be the first mission in which all four forward bulkhead Draco thrusters will be re-used for a NASA mission. Draco engines make it possible to reorient Crew Dragon and perform altitude adjustments while the spacecraft is in low Earth orbit.

Once the refurbs are done, SpaceX will ship Endurance to the company’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule will be mated to the Falcon 9 rocket and then rolled out for integrated static fire tests prior to the scheduled launch.

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