Manned SpaceX flight: In regular operation to the ISS

Status: 11/16/2020 1:37 a.m.

Off to a successful start: the private space company SpaceX has set out on its first official mission to the ISS. Other companies want to follow suit.

By Ute Spangenberger,

“Crew-1” – this is the name of the first official SpaceX mission to the International Space Station. The launch should actually have taken place at the end of October, but was postponed by NASA and SpaceX after engine problems on the Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket then took off successfully on Monday night.

SpaceX flight to the ISS launched

Stefan Niemann, ARD Washington, daily news 8 p.m., November 16, 2020

The mission will have several premieres: For the first time since the American space shuttle program was discontinued in 2011, an international crew will again fly into space from American soil. The team consists of four members: three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese space agency JAXA. During the test flight in May, SpaceX only sent two NASA astronauts into space with the space capsule “Crew Dragon”.

A two-week quarantine began for the astronauts at the end of October. Its purpose is to ensure that the crew does not bring the coronavirus onto the ISS. The SpaceX capsule was launched on a Falcon-9 launcher from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

There will also be another premiere: The astronauts will stay in space for six months, i.e. complete a long-term mission. The test pilots Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were less than half as long in space on the first SpaceX flight in May.

Their flight into space was significantly shorter than the upcoming mission: test pilots Behnken and Hurley.

Image: dpa

American independence

NASA boss Jim Bridenstine speaks of the new mission as an important step in the history of space travel: “This mission is another decisive milestone in the development of our ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil – now sustainably”.

That means: The USA would like to fly to the ISS regularly again and thus build on old times. After NASA ended the space shuttle program in 2011 for cost reasons, they had to rely on the Russians and their Soyuz capsule. Planning for the future is now under way.

Start der Spacex Falcon9 …


… vom “Kennedy Space Center” in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Build: AP

ESA astronauts will be there soon

In the spring of 2021 – SpaceX’s second operational flight – an astronaut from the European Space Agency ESA will be on board: the French Thomas Pesquet. In July, ESA announced its participation.

“I’m really excited to be the first European to fly on board the new generation of manned US spaceships,” said Pesquet on the nomination. And ESA Director General Jan Wörner emphasized that the international character of manned spaceflight would persist even if a commercial spacecraft built in the USA was used.

The German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer will be the second European after Pesquet to fly to the ISS. It is still unclear when it will start and with whom.

At some point Matthias Maurer will also fly to the ISS – but he still has to be patient.

Bild: picture alliance/dpa

Multiple transport systems

So far, two providers, SpaceX and the Russian space agency Roskosmos, have been able to fly manned to the ISS with the Soyuz capsule. Soon, however, the “Starliner” space capsule from the US company Boeing will be added. In 2014, NASA commissioned SpaceX and Boeing to develop transport systems as part of the “Commercial Crew Program”.

In order to actually be allowed to fly to the ISS, the companies first had to prove that they could dock with the ISS with unmanned capsules. This test flight failed at Boeing. It should be made up for in the next few months.

Boeing’s Starliner space capsule – here on a test flight with an Atlas 5 rocket in December 2019 – is not ready to fly to the ISS.

Bild: picture alliance/dpa

Still question marks behind Boeing

ESA coordinator Thomas Reiter says that we have to wait and see whether Boeing’s next test flight succeeds. If so, the Starliner capsule will then have to make a manned test flight. Only then will she be able to fly to the ISS as a matter of routine: “It is still unclear whether this will succeed in time so that Matthias Maurer will be the first European to fly with Boeing.”

In the 20-year history of the ISS, three Germans have so far been on the space station: Thomas Reiter, Hans Schlegel and two times Alexander Gerst.

Increase in the ISS crew

So far, a European astronaut has flown to the ISS about every one and a half to two years, explains Reiter. That should happen more often in the future, about once a year. The reason: In the SpaceX capsule four astronauts can be brought to the ISS at the same time, in the Soyuz capsule there was only room for three.

“This increases the number of permanent crew members on board the ISS from six to seven,” reckons Reiter. And with that, the number of flight opportunities for ESA astronauts will automatically increase in the coming years. The ISS is jointly operated and funded by the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency.

The current Crew 1 mission is scheduled to dock with the ISS tomorrow morning. Then the Americans would have made another stage on their way to greatness in space.

Start of the space mission “Crew-1” with a SpaceX spaceship

Arthur Landwehr, ARD Washington, November 16, 2020 7:25 am