WATTSVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — Set to launch at 5:49 a.m. Friday is the Crew-2 mission, the latest commercial crew rotation with NASA and SpaceX.
The aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company made history with the government agency in 2020, launching Crew Dragon, the first-ever private human vehicle to head for orbit.
Delayed 24 hours due to unfavorable weather conditions along the flight path, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket have a four hour-window Friday morning to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This is the first human spaceflight mission to fly astronauts on a flight-proven Falcon 9 and Dragon.
Part of the flight will be tracking from Virginia, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
“We’ll be flying four people up to the space station,” Wallops Flight Facility News Cheif Keith Koehler said. “It’s just a continuation of this process of looking to the commercial sector to be able to provide space flights for our astronauts.”
The crew for Friday’s launch includes NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Ahkihiko Hoshide. They will stay at the International Space Station for six months, conducting research.
But before the crew enters orbit, the flight will make its way up the east coast, tracked by a team at Wallops.
“We’ll be tracking the launch as it happens,” Koehler said. “They’re looking at the health of the vehicle. They’re looking to make sure that all the electronic systems are working, that the engines are working properly, all those types of things. There are probably a thousand different items that they’re looking at for a vehicle of this complexity.”
Koehler said that tracking data will be sent back to SpaceX at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. to ensure a safe flight.
“One thing that’s cool about this mission, if you’re on the east coast, right along the coast, you may be able to see this. I know in the last couple of SpaceX missions at the station that folks have reported it when it’s dark and right before sunrise,” Koehler said. “Out of Florida, they’ll want to fly north, along the north coast, and then, eventually, it goes over Europe.”
Rockets launching from Wallops on the eastern shore typically take a different flight path.
“When we launched the Antares, we launched to the southeast, and then, eventually, it goes over the southern tip of Africa as it enters orbit,” Koehler said. “Wallops is very excited about supporting this mission and being a part of it, and we’re getting ready for our next launch of the Antares later this summer.”
Down south at Cape Canaveral, Koehler said that the team monitoring the launch will be sizeable. But at Wallops Island, the tracking crew is much smaller.
“The team at Wallops is, really, very small for this mission,” Koehler said. “For the tracking site, it’s probably just a handful of people who will be at the location in the building. Especially with COVID these days, we have to maintain spacing and those types of things.”
Koehler said that the team on the eastern shore will hand off its tracking responsibilities after the second stage burn, which is another ignition that helps boost the vehicle into orbit.
“We have the instrumentation here that allows us to look at the vehicle and provide the information that we need to make sure that we’re having a safe flight,” Koehler said. “We’re just really located in the right spot in order to be able to contribute to the missions.”