SpaceX, NASA launch Crew-6, arrives at the ISS

by Sawyer Rosenstein

The Crew-6 astronauts lifted off onboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center at 12:34 AM EST (05:34 UTC) on March 2. Dragon Endeavour completed its trip to the ISS 24 hours after launch. 

This mission makes history by launching the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) into space, who will become the first Emirati to become a long-duration crew member on the ISS. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) received this seat as a result of a deal between NASA and Axiom Space.

SpaceX and NASA were making the second attempt to launch of four people to the International Space Station (ISS) after an issue with the TEA-TEB engine ignition system scrubbed Monday’s attempt.

To allow for continued American presence aboard the ISS, Axiom gave up a seat aboard Soyuz MS-18 in April 2021, allowing NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to fly. In exchange, Axiom was given a seat on Crew-6 at no additional cost. That led to the agreement with the United Arab Emirates space agency.

The crew consists of commander Stephen Bowen, pilot Warren “Woody” Hoburg, mission specialist Sultan AlNeyadi from the UAE, and mission specialist Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos. Bowen is the only crewmember who has previously flown to space. 

The Crew-6 astronauts from left to right: Andrey Fedyaev, Sultan AlNeyadi, Warren Hoburg, and Stephen Bowen. (Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

A retired US Navy captain, Stephen Bowen, 59, was born in Cohasset, Massachusetts. A member of astronaut group 18, Bowen became the first submarine officer to be selected as an astronaut in 2000. He is a veteran of three space shuttle flights, STS-126, STS-132, and STS-133, all of which visited the ISS. 

In addition to an electrical engineering degree from the US Naval Academy, Bowen has a master’s in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a joint program with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He currently has more than 40 days in space including 47 hours and 18 minutes performing seven spacewalks; this will be his first long-duration mission.

In the pilot seat is Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 37. He was selected as part of the 22nd astronaut group in 2017. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Hoburg graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, before getting his doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley. 

Prior to his selection as an astronaut, Hoburg was leading a research group at MIT, which studied efficient methods for the design of engineering systems. This will be his first spaceflight. 

Flying as a mission specialist, Sultan AlNeyadi, 41, became a member of the UAE’s first astronaut class in 2018, which selected only two astronauts out of a pool of more than 4,000. AlNeyadi originally served as backup to Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, who launched aboard a Soyuz rocket on an eight-day mission to the orbiting laboratory in March 2019. 

Sultan AlNeyadi will be the second astronaut from the UAE to fly to space and the first on a long-duration mission. (Credit: Stephen Marr for NSF)

Born near Al Ain in the UAE, AlNeyadi joined his country’s armed forces. He received a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communications engineering from the University of Brighton. AlNeyadi then earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in network security and data leakage prevention technology respectively from Griffith University in Australia. This is his first spaceflight.

Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, whose 42nd birthday is Feb. 26, will be making his first trip into space. As part of an agreement with NASA signed in July 2022, Roscosmos will get one seat aboard a Crew Dragon capsule while a NASA astronaut flies on a Russian Soyuz. Born in Serav near the eastern foothills of the Ural mountains, Fedyaev received an engineering degree in air transport and air traffic control from the Balashov Military Aviation School before joining the Russian Air Force. He was selected to become a cosmonaut in 2012.

This mission marked the fourth flight of the Crew Dragon Endeavour. Designated C206, the vehicle first supported the Demo-2 mission, which was the first crewed Dragon mission to the ISS in 2020. It also supported Crew-2 in 2021 and Axiom-1 in 2022. Prior to this mission, the vehicle spent 280 days in space.

Crew Dragon Endeavour at LC-39A ahead of the Crew-6 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

Endeavour is one of SpaceX’s four crew capsules including Endurance (C210), Resilience (C207), and Freedom (C212).

The booster that launched Endeavour and the crew was B1078. This booster was flying on its first mission. It was tested in McGregor, Texas on Nov. 22, 2022, before being shipped to the Cape for integration. After launch, it landed on Just Read the Instructions located approximately 550 km to the northeast of the launch site. 

While SpaceX monitors the weather for booster recovery, it also monitors weather along the eastern seaboard in case of an in-flight abort. According to NASA, there are 50 different locations monitored for wave height and precipitation ahead of and during the flight.

The capsule has seven different abort modes which can be activated in case of an emergency, each resulting in different landing locations, adding additional launch commit criteria that must be met to receive a “go” for launch from the range. The countdown was smooth with no constraints from the vehicle or weather standpoints.

Ahead of the launch, the crew of four donned their spacesuits inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. They then walked out and have one last chance to say goodbye to loved ones in person. They then loaded up inside a caravan of Teslas for the drive to LC-39A.

About two and a half hours before launch, the crew entered the white room, with hatch closure around 40 minutes later.

At T-42 minutes, the crew access arm rotated away, followed four minutes later by the arming of the launch escape system. Even while at the launch pad, the SuperDraco thrusters onboard Dragon can activate and pull the crew to safety in the event of an anomaly. 

Propellant loading began at T-35 minutes, following the traditional Falcon 9 timeline of loading liquid oxygen and RP-1, or rocket-grade kerosene, into the vehicle.

Following liftoff at T0, the first and second stages took eight minutes and 50 seconds to deliver Endeavour into a parking orbit. With a targeted inclination of 51.66°, which is standard for missions that rendezvous with the ISS, the capsule separated from the second stage 11 minutes 57 seconds after launch.

It opened its nosecone 45 seconds later, which not only contains the docking port but much of the equipment used to target the station and rendezvous. There was an issue with “Hook 5”, but resolved by utilizing its back up. The second stage, now separated from Dragon, performed one final deorbit burn results in its destruction.

Crew Dragon Endeavour undocks from the ISS during the Crew-2 mission. (Credit: NASA/SpaceX)

Endeavour docked to the zenith docking port on the ISS’ Harmony module – following a long hold at 20 meters relating to a software update as Hook 5 again proved to be an issue – and will remain docked to the station for the duration of the mission. This allows it to be used as an “emergency lifeboat” should something go wrong while at the ISS.

This was the first crewed launch of 2023 and will bring the total number of people who have been to space to 657.

(Lead image: B1078-1 launches Crew Dragon Endeavour on Crew-6 mission. Credit: Sawyer Rosenstein for NSF)

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