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SpaceX ships have upgraded the cargo spacecraft in Florida for the first dragon orbital rendezvous

SpaceX claims to have shipped the first updated Dragon 2 cargo spaceship to Florida, opening the doors for the first simultaneous spaceflight of two dragons.

More or less a modified version of SpaceX’s rapidly maturing Crew Dragon spacecraft, the company says Cargo Dragon 2 will be “capable of carrying 50% more scientific cargoes” than the original Cargo Dragon. Cargo Dragon has experienced several shocking milestones over the course of its career, eventually becoming the first privately developed spacecraft to reach orbit, re-enter and splash; the first commercial spacecraft to meet and deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and the first routinely reused orbital capsule.

SpaceX retired the historic vehicle after completing its 21

st successful orbital launch and landing in April 2020, less than two months before Crew Dragon took off for an even more historic astronaut launch debut. Prior to Demo-2, Crew Dragon completed what both NASA and SpaceX deemed an almost incredibly flawless unmanned debut in March 2019. Now, two months after the spacecraft successfully returned two NASA astronauts from orbit to ground for the first time, SpaceX is changing ready for Crew Dragon’s operational astronaut launch almost at the same time as Cargo Dragon 2 prepares for its debut.

The first upgraded Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft is pictured here in Hawthorne, California, just before the Florida expedition. (SpaceX)

Beginning with an October 10 update from NASA, SpaceX and the space agency decided to delay the launch of Crew Dragon’s Crew-1 by several weeks to double-check that a booster engine problem that disrupted a recent Falcon 9 satellite launch has no common roots with its rocket sister. Probably built side by side at the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California, it is not unreasonable to want to verify that the Falcon 9 B1061 (Crew-1) booster is not affected by the same problem that forced B1062 to interrupt the launch of the US military GPS III satellite. on October 2.

The Falcon 9 Booster B1061 was statically fired in McGregor, Texas around April 2020. (SpaceX)
The Falcon 9 B1062 booster was tested in McGregor only a few months later. (SpaceX)

As a result, Crew-1 has slipped from placeholder launch dates of October 23 and 31 to an “early to mid-November” time, while most external sources suggest a mid-to-late November target is more likely. . NASA and SpaceX have never confirmed the arrival, but the C207 capsule of the Dragon crew likely reached Florida in late August or early September, where teams have since equipped and processed the spacecraft for the final inspection and closing procedures.

Meanwhile, SpaceX claims it shipped the first Crew Dragon-derived cargo dragon to Florida several days ago, meaning the company will soon begin processing two updated dragons simultaneously for the first time. Notably, SpaceX did not offer any launch targets in its CRS-21 update, although NASA’s planning documents – prior to the recent Crew-1 delays – stated that the mission would be launched NET on November 22.

The Falcon 9 B1058 and C206 capsule prepare for the inaugural Crew Dragon astronaut launch, May 2020. (NASA / Joel Kowsky)
SpaceX’s first astronaut-capable Crew Dragon prepares to leave Hawthorne in early 2020. (SpaceX)
SpaceX’s first Cargo Dragon spacecraft was shipped to Florida before the first orbital encounter of two SpaceX spacecraft. (SpaceX)

In other words, CRS-21 and Crew-1 are currently scheduled for launch within the same approximately two-week period, a situation that could pose some unique problems. As of now, Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon 2 are both to be launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A, as the pad features a unique crew access tower and arm (CAA) that allows both astronauts to board that cargo to be loaded. SpaceX’s Pad 39A turnaround record – the time between two launches from the same pad – is around 10 days, and that figure is likely much higher for Crew Dragon missions.

If the current dates hold, NASA will have to decide which SpaceX Dragon mission to launch first. In any case, however, it would take a big delay for CRS-21 and Crew-1 not to mark the first time two SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will meet in orbit on the ISS. If successful, it can be confidently asserted that SpaceX will firmly consolidate its position as the only spaceflight company on Earth truly capable of doing everything from cheap and reusable rocket launches to manned spaceflight and refueling missions. from space stations to orbital tourism and more.

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