SpaceX, NASA On Track For Next Astronaut Launch On Falcon 9 Rocket

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Looking to start 2024 on a strong note, NASA’s and SpaceX’s next crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is on track for a February launch. NASA confirmed a ‘no earlier than’ mid February launch date as of now in a post inviting media members for accreditation to view the Falcon 9 lift off with the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Florida at the Kennedy Space Center.

The KSC is the only spaceport in the U.S. capable of sending astronauts to the ISS and deeper space. The site itself has an eventful year ahead of it if NASA can meet its timelines for the Artemis 2 mission. Artemis 2 will be the first time since NASA has sent astronauts to the Moon since the Apollo program.

NASA & SpaceX Are Targeting NET mid-February for Falcon 9’s 9th Crewed Launch Of The Dragon Spacecraft

The latest timeline for the Crew-8 mission is a followup from NASA’s previous update in December, and both share the same timeline. As it has proven for the Starlink program, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is also the workhorse of crewed space missions from America. It is the only human rated rocket that can send astronauts to the ISS, and even though the Boeing built SLS for Artemis will send a crew to the Moon, the Falcon 9 will likely maintain a faster cadence for closer missions to the ISS.

Along with space ships operated by Russian and Chinese space agencies, the Crew Dragon is one of the few spacecraft in the world that can conduct low Earth orbit (LEO) ISS missions. Crew-8 will see three astronauts fly into space for the first time, with only NASA astronaut Michael Barratt having flown into space twice before.

The four Crew-8 astronauts and a cosmonaut at SpaceX’s facilities in Hawthorne, California during training. Image: SpaceX

The crew will finish a full duration mission on the ISS. Under SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which typically launches and lands the same crew from and on Earth, a full-duration mission usually lasts six months. For Crew-8, this means that the mission will end in late August. A standard Crew Dragon mission to the ISS also sees the next crew complement reach the station before their predecessors depart. This will also be the case for Crew-8, as they will finish a handover in August 2024 to Crew-9 before entering their ship and preparing for splashdown.

Additionally, a NET mid February launch for Crew-8 also means that it can occur in the same time period when Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is making its first landing attempt. Peregrine is slated to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Monday with 20 payloads. Five of these are NASA payloads, and the lander, the first U.S. commercial lunar landing vehicle, is targeting February 23rd as its landing date.

The Crew-8 mission will mark NASA and SpaceX’s ninth successful crewed mission to the ISS. While NASA had awarded both Boeing and SpaceX with contracts to send a crew to the station, only SpaceX has successfully secured a NASA certification and operated operational flights without a hitch.

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