On Monday, SpaceX’s first official astronauts successfully maneuvered its “Crew Dragon” spacecraft to the new port of the International Space Station. This is the vehicle’s first attempt to maneuver.
This process is called port relocation. The process requires the spacecraft to retreat from the ISS port since it arrived at the Orbital Laboratory in November, then fly to another port facing space, and then dock there. The Russian Soyuz vehicle has conducted 15 port rotation exercises in the past, but no astronaut has ever conducted it in a commercial spacecraft before.
The reorganized spacecraft cleared the way for SpaceX’s next Crew Dragon capsule to reach the International Space Station. The mission, called Crew-2, will be launched on April 22, and four more astronauts will enter the space station.
The four astronauts Crew-1 currently on mission will return to Earth approximately five days after Crew-2 arrives. In the overlapping time, the International Space Station will have two crew dragons-and a crowded 11-person space house.
Now, NASA is commissioning SpaceX and Russia’s Soyuz launch system for regular astronaut flights, and the ISS is expected to become more crowded. Future Crew Dragons may also need to switch ports, especially if Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft joins the combination later this year. Both SpaceX and Boeing have developed their spacecraft through NASA’s “Commercial Crew Program”, a competition designed to stimulate the development of commercial alternatives to the Soyuz.
Kathy Leuders, deputy director of human exploration and operations at NASA, said at a press conference in March: “The space station has become the space port we want to be, and there are aircraft flying to it. And return to science and payload, and do magical things in orbit..
Watch the crew switch parking spaces
In preparation for the port relocation, on Monday morning, NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi waited for Crew-1 astronauts to put on space suits. If any failure occurs and the cabin of the spacecraft is damaged, docking and docking operations on the space suit are required.
SpaceX also has a rescue ship near the splash zone in the Atlantic Ocean, in case the crew dragon must derail and jump back to Earth.
But everything seems to be going well. The astronauts boarded the Crew Dragon capsule they called “Resilience”, checked for air pressure leaks, and instructed the spacecraft to start fully automatic maneuvers. At 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the flexible hook fixed to the front port of the space station was separated from the spacecraft. Then, the vehicle launches its thrusters to move backwards.
For the next 30 minutes, “resilience” orbits the Earth at a speed of about 5 miles per second, moves above the International Space Station, and aligns with the space station’s zenith port facing space. It stopped there at 7:08 AM Eastern Time.
NASA broadcast the exercise in the video below. Undocking starts at approximately 30:45.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her Russian colleagues Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov also relocated their ports on March 19. They moved the Soyuz spacecraft from the ground port of the Russian capsule of the International Space Station to the space port. The former will be left open to the next Soyuz spacecraft to train three more astronauts on April 9.
Unlike the Crew Dragon, the Soyuz must be maneuvered manually.
After Crew 1 returns to Earth, an unmanned cargo freighter spacecraft carrying the new solar panels of the International Space Station will be replaced at Zenith Harbor.