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Fri, Jan 21, 2022

NASA Updates Future SpaceX Astronaut Launches

Another Day, Another Delay 

The upcoming Crew-4 mission will be the 4th of SpaceX's operational astronaut launches for NASA, now scheduled for April with a brand new Crew Dragon capsule, and a 3-time veteran Falcon 9 booster.

The administration confirmed a rumored delay of the Axiom's Ax-1 mission, which now pushes the original February launch to the end of March. Reportedly, the delay is meant to "allow [for] additional technical and scheduling issues." The Ax-1 is the first private astronaut launch to the international Space Station, as well as the first all-private spaceflight. 

The 3 private astronaut customers are Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe, each a ticket holder that dropped $55 million for the opportunity.  Once aboard the ISS, the private crew will "conduct science, outreach, and commercial activities for eight days before their return to Earth." Ax-1 will be the 3rd mission flown on its assigned Crew Dragon, a first for SpaceX. The reusability of the platform is a major draw for NASA, allowing a rare instance of affordability and recycling in spaceflight. 

Refurbishment, repair, and readiness are the name of the game with the Crew Dragon, but that can be a double edged sword when schedules are up against the wall. Previous launch systems, while considerably more expensive as bespoke, one-use rockets, did mitigate problems of mission overlap when the necessary timing becomes misaligned. Some worry about the launch dates for Crew-4 and Ax-1 is warranted, as, if the latter shifts due to any unforeseen problem - for example, a medical issue with the limited flight-ready astronauts, or shifting weather conditions - a cascade of delays could see the mission scrubbed. Spare Crew Dragons aren't purchased by the dozen, and NASA is forecasted to see its astronaut cadre fall to a nadir of 44 personnel, a relic of its ISS-focused mission tempo of years past. With so many moving parts, a simple delay of a matter of days can quickly turn to weeks or months. For now, however, Ax-1 is scheduled to take off no earlier than March 31st, 2022, followed on April 15th by Crew-4. 



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