SpaceX may have Dragon spaceships in orbit without a break for a year

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SpaceX is preparing to launch four NASA astronauts on its Crew Dragon spaceship this Halloween — the first of six regular crewed missions the space agency has contracted from the rocket company founded by Elon Musk. (The one that concluded in August was considered a demonstration.)

That’s on top of the cargo resupply missions that SpaceX will regularly launch to the International Space Station for NASA. The company has been sending a spaceship designed to carry supplies, called Cargo Dragon, to the orbiting laboratory since 2012. That vehicle has made more than 20 trips to the station and back.

Combined, the two types of Dragon spacecraft are scheduled to launch into space seven times over the next 14 months, leading to an unprecedented situation for SpaceX.

Spacex crew dragon launch

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with a “Starman” dummy aboard on March 2, 2019.

NASA TV


“Every time there’s a Dragon launch, there’ll be two Dragons in space,” Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, said at a press conference earlier this month. 

That’s because each of the crewed SpaceX missions should overlap for a little while. The company’s next astronaut mission, called Crew 1, launches at the end of the month, then the next one, Crew-2, is scheduled to launch in late March 2021. But the Crew-1 astronauts don’t plan to leave the space station until April. The same thing should happen with the following mission, Crew-3: It’s expected to launch in September 2021, so should tag up with Crew-2 in orbit.

The Crew-1 crew includes NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, and Victor Glover, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Hopkins is to be the mission commander, Glover the pilot, and Walker and Noguchi mission specialists.

soichi noguchi victor glover shannon walker nasa jaxa astronauts spacex spacesuits portrait crew 1 dragon spaceship mission KSC 20200924 PH SPX01_0009_orig

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts participate