WASHINGTON — A Crew Dragon undocked from the International Space Station on April 24 with four private astronauts spending nearly twice as long on the station as originally planned.
The Crew Dragon Endeavor spacecraft undocked from the station at 9:10 pm ET. The undocking sets up a splashdown off the Florida coast scheduled for 1:06 p.m. ET on April 25. While SpaceX has several potential landing sites to choose from, NASA said the main site is in the Atlantic Ocean off Jacksonville.
“Thank you once again for all the support through this incredible adventure we’ve had, even longer and more exciting than we thought,” Michael Lopez-Alegria, commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, told flight controllers. space station once the spacecraft departed from the vicinity of the ISS shortly after undocking.
The undocking marks the final phase of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, which began with an April 8 launch in a Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Center. The mission, the first private mission by an astronaut from a US spacecraft to the ISS, is commanded by López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, with three clients: Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy.
Endeavor docked with the ISS on April 9 for what was originally announced as an eight-day stay. However, the spacecraft spent more than 15 days on the station, its departure being delayed mainly by bad weather at the splashdown sites. Neither NASA nor Axiom Space elaborated on the specific weather criteria, such as winds or wave conditions, that prevented a splashdown, other than “marginally strong winds” that delayed undocking from April 23-24.
The extended stay did not materially affect station operations. “NASA and Axiom’s mission planning has prepared for the possibility of additional time on station for private astronauts, and there are sufficient provisions for the 11 crew members aboard the space station,” the agency said in a statement. a blog post from April 20.
However, he raised questions about whether it would cost Axiom and its private astronaut clients more money. “The agreement between NASA and Axiom allowed for the possibility of additional days,” Axiom spokesperson Dakota Orlando told SpaceNews on April 24, but did not answer questions about the details of that agreement.
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said on April 24 that the agreement included an “equitable balance” to cover delays. “Knowing that International Space Station mission objectives, such as the recently conducted Russian spacewalk or weather challenges, could result in an undocking delay, NASA negotiated the contract with a strategy that does not require reimbursement for additional delays. in decoupling,” he said.
The additional time at the station was not wasted. The four private astronauts had a “very tight research schedule,” Orlando said, sometimes working 14-hour days. “With the delay, they have continued to work on these research and outreach projects at a more leisurely pace, with additional time to enjoy the sights of the blue planet.”
Before the launch, Axiom executives emphasized the research they would do on the tourism the station would offer. “They are not there to stick their noses out the window. They really go there to do meaningful research,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said at a mission briefing in February.
Undocking was not affected by an ISS maneuver on April 23. The Progress MS-18 spacecraft docked with the station’s Russian segment fired its thrusters for 10 minutes and 23 seconds to increase the station’s orbit by about two kilometers. NASA advertised the maneuver as one that “optimizes the phase for future visiting vehicles arriving at the station”, but it was originally described as a maneuver to avoid a piece of debris projected to approach the station.
NASA spokesman Gary Jordan said that while flight controllers tracked a potential conjunction, or close approach, of debris to the station, “the conjunction turned green” or no longer posed a threat. “Flight control teams elected to proceed with a nominal boost,” he said.
The debris in question, Jordan said, was an object with a NORAD ID of 51157, and is one of more than a thousand pieces of tracked debris created by Russia’s November 2021 anti-satellite weapons demonstration that destroyed a defunct Russian satellite, Cosmos 1408.