Crew-3 mission on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft
The Crew-3 flight will carry NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander; Tom Marshburn, pilot; and Kayla Barron, mission specialist; as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, who will serve as a mission specialist, to the space station for a six-month science mission. 1) 2) 3)
Figure 1: ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer (left) trains with NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron at SpaceX in California, USA (image credit: ESA)
- Raja Chari is commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-3 mission. Chari is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 66 flight engineer aboard the station. This will be the first spaceflight for Chari, who was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 2017. He was born in Milwaukee, but considers Cedar Falls, Iowa, his hometown. He is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and joins the mission with extensive experience as a test pilot. He has accumulated more than 2,500 hours of flight time in his career. Chari was also selected as a member of the Artemis Team and is now eligible for assignment to a future lunar mission.
- Tom Marshburn is the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and second-in-command for the mission. He is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. Once aboard station, he will serve as an Expedition 66 flight engineer,and is scheduled to assume command of station for Expedition 67. Marshburn is a Statesville, North Carolina, native who became an astronaut in 2004. Prior to serving in the astronaut corps, the medical doctor served as flight surgeon at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and later became medical operations lead for the International Space Station. The Crew-3 mission will be his third visit to the space station on three different spacecraft and his second long-duration mission. Marshburn previously served as a crew member of STS-127 in 2009 flying aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour, and Expedition 34/35, which concluded in 2013, using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
- Kayla Barron is a mission specialist for Crew-3. As a mission specialist, she will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Once aboard the station, she will become a flight engineer for Expedition 66. Barron was born in Pocatello, Idaho, but considers Richland, Washington, her hometown. She earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2010, and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge, in England, in 2011, as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Lt. Cmdr. Barron earned her submarine warfare officer qualification and deployed three times while serving aboard the USS Maine. At the time of her selection as an astronaut candidate in 2017, she was serving as the flag aide to the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Crew-3 will be Barron’s first spaceflight.
- Matthias Maurer officially joined ESA’s Astronaut Corps in 2015 and is the only ESA astronaut yet to fly to space. Originally from the southwest German state of Saarland, Matthias has studied in four different countries, gained a doctorate in materials science engineering and achieved national recognition for outstanding research. In 2016, Maurer spent 16 days on an undersea mission as part of a NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), space analog.
Cosmic Kiss mission: German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer will soon begin his first mission to the International Space Station. As a member of Crew-3, he will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft alongside NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron. 4)
Figure 2: Matthias selected the mission name “Cosmic Kiss” for his time in orbit as a declaration of love for space. He will spend around six months living and working in microgravity, where he will carry out many European and international experiments to advance space exploration and benefit lives on Earth (video credit: ESA)
Figure 3: Crew-3 astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Matthias Maurer in the SpaceX hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA where their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance is ready for launch to the International Space Station (image credit: SpaceX) 5)
Launch: The Crew-3 mission was launched on 11 November 2021 at 02:03 UTC (9:03 p.m. EST on 10 November) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 6)
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft with NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, into orbit to begin a six-month science mission on the space station.
This mission is the first spaceflight for astronauts Chari, Barron, and Maurer, and the third for Marshburn. Marshburn is the sixth person to launch from Earth on three different spacecraft.
Figure 4: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the ISS with NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer onboard (image credits: NASA, Joel Kowsky)
Orbit: Near-circular orbit, altitude of ~ 400 km, inclination of 51.6º.
Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew of NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos. Crew-3 is the second commercial crew mission to fly an ESA astronaut.
Matthias’s six-month Cosmic Kiss mission officially begins when he enters the Station, where he and his Crew-3 crewmates will be welcomed by Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei (Ref. 5).
Anton is the current commander of the International Space Station. He took over the role from ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet on 6 November, prior to Thomas’s return to Earth with Crew-2.
Cosmic Kiss is the first space mission for Matthias, who graduated as an ESA astronaut in 2018. Matthias will spend approximately six months supporting science and operations aboard the orbital outpost and is expected to perform a Russian spacewalk in support of the European Robotic Arm (ERA) activation, having certified in both the Russian Orlan and American Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits.
Mission overview 7)
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will monitor a series of automatic maneuvers that will guide the Crew-3 astronauts to their new home in orbit at the forward end of the station’s Harmony module.
Crew Dragon astronauts are slated to arrive at the space station tomorrow, Nov. 11, with docking targeted for 7:10 p.m. EST. Following docking and hatch opening, a welcoming ceremony is planned for 9:20 p.m. EST. The spacecraft is designed to dock autonomously with the ability for astronauts aboard the spacecraft to take control and pilot manually, if necessary.
After successfully docking, the astronauts of Crew-3 will be welcomed to station by the Expedition 66 crew, including the Crew-2 astronauts still aboard. After a short handover period, Crew-2 astronauts will board Crew Dragon Endeavour for their return to Earth in early November.
The Crew-3 astronauts will spend approximately six months aboard the International Space Station conducting new and exciting scientific research in areas such as materials science, health technologies, and plant science to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth.
Fiber Optic Production-2 (FOP-2) builds on previous work to manufacture commercial optical fibers in microgravity using a blend of elements called ZBLAN. Earlier studies suggest that ZBLAN optical fibers produced in microgravity exhibit qualities superior to those of fibers produced on Earth. Results from FOP-2 could help further verify these studies and aid in the development of manufacturing processes of high value optical fiber aboard the space station for commercial use.
The rHEALTH ONE Microgravity Demonstration focuses on the functionality and performance of this modified commercial off-the-shelf device’s underlying technology to complete flow cytometry of selected control solutions. Flow cytometry can provide quick and accurate measurements of biological indicators related to disease, infection, or environmental exposure while in microgravity. Successful in-orbit testing of the device would be an important step toward providing this capability for deep-space exploration missions.
The eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) investigation uses hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow plants without soil or other growth media. Plants are monitored through their entire life cycle. Results could identify suitable methods to produce crops on a larger scale for future space missions.
Approximately 70% of astronauts experience eye changes during long-duration space missions. The changes are collectively referred to as Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS). The European Retinal Diagnostics experiment will use a commercially available ophthalmology lens, adapted for use with a tablet in space, to capture images of astronauts’ retinas. The images and videos collected will be used to test and train AI models that could automatically detect retinal changes in astronauts in the future, and provide the ability to support patients and clinicians on Earth in remote or developing regions.
During their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, astronauts of Crew-3 will see cargo spacecraft including the SpaceX cargo Dragon in December and the Northrop Grumman Cygnus in early 2022. They will also welcome two different private crews to the station, including Japanese tourists aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the end of 2021, and the Axiom Mission 1 crew, the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, scheduled to launch no earlier than February 21, 2022. The Crew-3 astronauts are scheduled to conduct a series of spacewalks to outfit the station’s power system in preparation for new solar arrays that will increase the station’s total available power supply.
At the conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the four astronauts aboard, depart the space station and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. After splashdown just off Florida’s coast, a SpaceX recovery vessel will pick up the crew and bring them back to shore to board a plane for return to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The Crew-3 mission continues the efforts of NASA’s efforts to restore and maintain American leadership in human spaceflight. Regular, long-duration commercial crew rotation missions enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place aboard the station. Such research benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis missions, which includes land the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface.
Supplies and Hardware
• Aboard Dragon with the crew will be more than 400 pounds of supplies and hardware, including over 150 pounds of which they will use to conduct experiments aboard the space station. Here is some of the research riding with them into low-Earth orbit. 8)
Spacecraft guidance in your pocket
- The Smartphone Video Guidance System (SVGS), created as a collaboration between NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, is about to get a test on the space station. SVGS is a low-cost, commercial-off-the-shelf implementation of advanced sensors designed for automated rendezvous and capture of spacecraft. The system uses a camera to capture images of a 4-point LED beacon and analyzes the pattern of the illuminated dots on the captured images to determine the range and orientation of the target relative to the camera frame. The system will be deployed and tested using the station’s Astrobee facility, which uses free-flying robots to test new technology and software. If successful, the software could enable future use in multi-spacecraft formations of CubeSats or other small satellites, demonstrating this technology’s potential advantages in other robotic proximity operations such as rendezvous and docking.
Figure 5: The Smartphone Video Guidance System (SVGS) is tested on the ground prior to launch. The software behind SVGS could enable future use in multi-spacecraft formations of CubeSats or other small satellites (image credits: Marshall Space Flight Center/Florida Institute of Technology)
Figure 6: NASA astronaut and Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Megan McArthur sets up an Astrobee robotic free flyer inside the International Space Station's Kibo laboratory module (image credit: NASA)
- “Key factors that make SVGS attractive to small sat applications also make it appealing to human exploration missions, where crew spacecraft need to dock with a variety of platforms,” says SVGS Principal Investigator Dr. Hector Gutierrez of the Florida Institute of Technology. “The niche for a proximity operations sensor for space applications is currently open. The demonstration of SVGS on the space station is an important milestone to position SVGS in that role.”
Better space diets
- Spaceflight affects human bodies in numerous ways, including how the immune system functions. The Food Physiology investigation documents if the effects of dietary improvements will also improve immune function and the gut microbiome and if those improvements can help crews better adapt to spaceflight. An enhanced understanding of food’s effects on physiology in microgravity can help scientists continue to improve the spaceflight diet and crew health.
- Resupply hardware for the Food Physiology study launches on the Crew Dragon spacecraft along with the Crew-3 astronauts. Once in orbit, the astronauts will collect biological samples to provide data to the scientists back on the ground for continued study of how dietary changes affect living in microgravity.
Figure 7: Former NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy processes biological samples in a glovebag aboard the International Space Station for the Food Physiology experiment to characterize the key effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status indicators (image credit: NASA)
- Uniform Protein Crystal Growth (UPCG) is planned to launch aboard Crew-3 and return to Earth soon after with Crew-2. The study aims to leverage this quick turnaround and microgravity to grow a batch of near perfect nanocrystals of riboswitch RNA, which is responsible for switching individual genes on and off. Once returned aboard a different Crew Dragon spacecraft, researchers plan to quickly analyze these nanocrystals using the X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL), a powerful atomic imaging technology that allows users to create a movie of the structural changes taking place during a critical process that lasts only milliseconds. This process has not been observed due to the inability to grow large enough crystals on the ground. Findings could help researchers better understand the process of gene switching as well as advance the XFEL technology itself, which has potential applications in biotechnology and medicine.
Monitoring astronaut health for science
- Spaceflight Standard Measures (SSM) is a set of consistent biological core measurements taken from space station crew members to characterize the effects of living and working in space. Standard measures include physiological, psychological, and chemical measurements that quantify crew or subject health and performance before, during, and after flight. The data is archived and made available for many future studies that can improve understanding about how the human body adapts to microgravity. Additional supplies for this experiment will launch with Crew-3, who will then participate in the data collection aboard station.
- On Earth, our muscles constantly must work against gravity, which allows them to grow stronger or maintain strength naturally. To prevent muscle atrophy and the resulting bone loss in microgravity, astronauts on the space station exercise for around two and a half hours every day. The ESA study EasyMotion wants to increase the efficiency of this exercise using electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), a strengthening technique in which muscles are stimulated by applying electrical impulses. EasyMotion combines targeted exercises with the underlying muscle tension achieved using EMS to increase the efficiency of exercise. On the space station, Maurer will use a specialized EMS suit launching with Crew-3 aboard Dragon to complement his exercise program of running, cycling, and strength training.
- In addition to the experiments flying with them aboard Dragon, the Crew-3 astronauts are scheduled to conduct many additional experiments and technology demonstrations during their mission. Crew-3 is crucial for the testing of new upgrades to the space station’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), including the newly installed toilet, the Brine Processing Assembly, carbon dioxide scrubbers, and two new hydrogen sensors slated to arrive aboard a SpaceX Cargo Dragon in late December. They also plan to test the printing of fiber optics and a handheld bioprinter and to study concrete hardening among some of the more than 200 investigations during their time in orbit.
Figure 8: RNA crystals grown on Earth are evaluated under a polarized microscope as part of the pre-flight Experiment Validation Test (EVT) for the Uniform Protein Crystal Growth experiment. This experiment aims to grow and analyze a batch of near perfect nanocrystals of riboswitch RNA, which is responsible for switching individual genes on and off (image credits: Jason R. Stagno, Ph.D. & Yun-Xing Wang, Ph.D., Protein-Nucleic Acid Interaction Section, Center for Structural Biology, National Cancer Institute, NIH, DHHS)
Science in Space
• With a background in materials science Matthias is looking forward to supporting over 35 European and many more international experiments in orbit. These include investigations in human research, biology, materials science, fluid physics, environmental science and radiation, and technology. A few highlights include (Ref. 5):
- Retinal Diagnostics, which uses a commercially available ophthalmology lens, adapted for use with a tablet in space, to capture images of astronauts’ retinas. Images and videos collected will be used to test and train artificial intelligence (AI) models that could automatically detect retinal changes in astronauts in the future and provide the ability to support patients and clinicians on Earth in remote or developing regions.
- Biofilms, which aims to determine which metal surface has the best anti-microbial properties on ground, in orbit or on Mars. Run in the Kubik facility – a temperature-controlled incubator for studying biological samples in Europe’s Columbus module – it will test the growth of bacteria such as human skin-associated bacteria Staphylococcus capitisunder microgravity conditions.
- EasyMotion, which will see Matthias test a specialized electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) suit while exercising to determine its effect in mitigating muscle and bone loss in microgravity.
Figure 9: Cosmic Kiss mission patch. The name of European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer’s first mission to the International Space Station, Cosmic Kiss, is a declaration of love for space. It communicates the special connection the Station provides between Earth’s inhabitants and the cosmos. It also conveys the value of partnership in exploring farther to the Moon and Mars, alongside the need to respect, protect and preserve the nature of our home planet as we seek a sustainable future on Earth. - The Cosmic Kiss patch takes inspiration from the Nebra sky disc (“Himmelsscheibe von Nebra”) – the oldest known realistic illustration of the night sky – as well as the Pioneer plaques and Voyager Golden Records that were sent into the unknown carrying messages from Earth. These artefacts show a fascination with space that spans the ages. Since the beginning of time, humans have looked skyward for knowledge about the origins of life, the Universe and our place in the cosmos. The Cosmic Kiss mission builds on the curiosity of all those who came before us, as exploration advances our understanding of Earth, our Solar System and life itself. - Like the Nebra sky disc, the patch features several cosmic elements including Earth, the Moon and the Pleiades star cluster. It also depicts Mars, one of ESA’s three key destinations for exploration over the next 10 years, as a small red dot beckoning in the distance. - Earth is shown borderless and backlit, with only a delicate line of atmosphere visible. This phenomenon is often described by space travellers, who marvel at the wonder of all human life and events taking place in one thin and precious layer. - The most prominent feature is a simplified, almost heart-like International Space Station. This is connected through a human heartbeat that stretches from Earth to the Moon. This heartbeat symbolizes the human presence and passion that propels exploration forward and connects us to the Universe, as well as the vital life science experiments the Space Station enables. - As a unique oasis in space, the International Space Station is a hub of science, research and operations like no other. The continuous human presence that it supports beyond our Earth leads to greater knowledge, technological advances and a better understanding of fundamental and applied sciences. The Space Station is a lifeline for Earth’s future and paves the way for our next steps into space as we go forward to the Moon and Mars. It is the Cosmic Kiss that unites us and brings light to the unknown (video credit: ESA)
- The Cosmic Kiss mission patch features black, red, gold and white. Each color has been selected for its significance:
a) Black – represents the Universe and its mysteries that we seek to understand.
b) Red – stands for love and passion. It represents our human presence today and the martian soils that await us as we explore farther into the Solar System.
c) Gold – is the color of the stars that share their warmth and light to enable life.
d) White – is the heartbeat that flashes in the atmosphere. It stands for technology and scientific progress, bringing light into the dark.
Crew-3 arrives at ISS
• November 11, 2021: Running more than 30 minutes ahead of schedule, the SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts docked to the International Space Station at 6:32 p.m. EST Thursday on 11 November, less than 24 hours after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer opened the hatch of their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance at 8:25 p.m. and participated in a welcome ceremony with their new Expedition 66 crewmates at 9 p.m. 9)
- On board to welcome them were fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Expedition 66 Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos. Joining the welcome ceremony from Earth were Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations, NASA and Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General.
- The newest crew to the microgravity laboratory is the agency’s third crew rotation mission with SpaceX and will remain on board until April 2022 as a part of Expedition 66.
Figure 10: The Expedition 66 crew poses for a photo after SpaceX Crew-3’s arrival to station (image credit: NASA TV)
Figure 11: International Space Station Configuration on 11November 2021. Five spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter; the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle; and Russia’s Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and Progress 78 and 79 resupply ships (image credit: NASA)
• November 11, 2021: The Crew Dragon spacecraft docked with the International Space Station Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after its launch from Florida. 10)
- The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance docked with the forward port of the Harmony module of the station at 6:32 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time). The spacecraft’s arrival to the station took place smoothly, with the docking taking place nearly 40 minutes ahead of schedule.
- Endurance delivered to the ISS the four astronauts of the Crew-3 mission: NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. The four will stay on the station for about six months before replaced by the Crew-4 mission in the spring of 2022.
- The mission has been closely watched on both sides of the Atlantic, as Maurer is the second of three consecutive ESA astronauts flying to the station on Crew Dragon missions. “I’m delighted to see Matthias arrive safely to the space station and wish him all the best as he, and the teams supporting him, embark on a busy six months of science, research and operations in weightlessness,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher in a statement after docking.
Figure 12: The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance docked to the station's Harmony module (image credit: NASA TV)
- The four join NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Roscosmos cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov. Vande Hei and Dubrov have been on the station since April while Shkaplerov arrived in October. They will remain on the station until next spring.
- The seven-person ISS crew will have company over the next six months. The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft is scheduled for launch Dec. 8 for a 12-day stay at the ISS. On board will be Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and two private astronauts, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, on a dedicated commercial flight arranged by Space Adventures.
- Another Crew Dragon is scheduled to launch Feb. 21 on a flight arranged by Axiom Space. It will deliver to the station former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría and three private astronauts: Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe. They will spend about a week on the station.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).