DUBAI, U.A.E. — Poor weather at locations in the Atlantic that could be used for Crew Dragon aborts will delay the launch of the next commercial crew mission to the International Space Station by three days.
NASA announced early Oct. 30 that it was postponing the launch of the Crew-3 mission that has been scheduled for 2:21 a.m. Eastern Oct. 31 from the Kennedy Space Center. The agency said it rescheduled the launch for 1:10 a.m. Eastern Nov. 3.
Weather was the cause of the delay, but not at the launch site itself. Conditions were forecast to be good at KSC, with a 90% chance of acceptable conditions according to a forecast delivered late Oct. 29 during a briefing after the launch readiness review for the mission.
Instead, the agency cited high winds and waves in the Atlantic Ocean along the path Crew Dragon will follow as its Falcon 9 rocket sends it to orbit. Should the spacecraft have to abort because of a problem with the rocket, it could splash down in hazardous conditions along parts of the flight path.
Sarah Walker, director of Dragon mission management at SpaceX, said at the briefing that abort weather conditions were “marginal” at the time. “The weather has been no-go the last couple days in some of our commit criteria in the downrange portion,” she said. “The ascent corridor has been trending better, so we’re just waiting to see what may evolve.”
A couple hours after the briefing, though, NASA postponed the launch. Weather conditions are expected to improve in the corridor by the new launch attempt, and forecasts at KSC call for an 80% chance of acceptable weather for the new launch attempt.
Nov. 3 is the earliest next possible launch date independent of the weather. “We have a couple days, November first and second, that just aren’t favorable for orbital mechanics,” said Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager.
Crew-3 will send to the station NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, for a six-month stay. All but Marshburn are making their first space flight; Barron has noted in interviews that she has not even attended a launch.
At the briefing, NASA and SpaceX confirmed that they had resolved the final work associated with a problem with the toilet on the Crew Dragon spacecraft found on the Inspiration4 private mission in September. On that mission, a tube came disconnected in a storage tank for urine, allowing liquid to leak into a fan system. That led to minor corrosion where the liquid pooled under the floor of the capsule.
Stich said analyses found no risk to the structure of the Crew-2 capsule, Endeavour, currently docked to the station, which also has the malfunctioning storage system. “There’s no issue for the structure to return. That vehicle is fully safe to return and enter,” he said. “There’s no more work to do.”
While technicians have fixed to toilet on the Crew-3 capsule, Endurance, the repairs to the toilet on Endeavour will have to wait until after it returns. Walker said that SpaceX and NASA agreed to “limit the system’s use during the Crew-2 return, downhill portion of the mission.”
Asked what it meant to “limit” the use of the toilet, Stich clarified that “our intent is to not use the system at all for the return leg home” because of concerns about leakage. “We have other means to allow the crew to perform the functions they need to do,” referring to undergarments the astronauts wear under their suits. The time from undocking to landing will be on the order of several hours.