Having multiple spacecraft going to and from the International Space Station (ISS) is great for scientific progress, but it can cause the occasional traffic jam. Astronauts have executed the first-ever Dragon port relocation maneuver at the ISS, moving one Dragon to a new port, leaving space for the next few capsules to dock at the station.
It’s common practice on the ISS to keep at least one human-rated spacecraft docked at all times. This provides a means of escape for astronauts in the event of a system failure on the ISS or a high risk of impact with space debris. The current escape pod is Resilience, the Dragon capsule that went up to the ISS in November, carrying the first crew members on a regular rotation.
Resilience remained docked at the forward port on the station’s Harmony module, until 6:30 AM Eastern time on Monday. Four astronauts boarded the vessel and backed it 60 meters away from the station. 38 minutes later, the crew Dragon was docked with the module’s zenith port. This frees up the forward docking port for the next Crew Dragon, which will arrive later this month.
In late April, Resilience will leave the zenith port behind, making its way back to Earth. That will make way for the upcoming cargo Dragon, which will dock at the zenith port in June. Cargo missions need to dock at this location so the station’s robotic arm can unload materials from the trunk compartment on the vehicle.
The Crew-2 launch later this month will bring NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide to the station. This mission will use the Dragon capsule known as Endeavor, the same one that flew the successful Demo-2 mission in 2020. Crew-1 will splash down on April 28, returning NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover, as well as JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi.
The ISS will probably only get busier as time goes on. SpaceX is the only commercial spaceflight company with a human-certified vehicle, but Boeing is still plugging away at the CST-100 Starliner. After a flunked uncrewed orbital test in late 2019, Boeing and NASA have decided to re-launch the orbital test this summer. After that, Boeing hopes to have a regular flight to the ISS before the end of the year.
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