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SpaceX improved Crew Dragon capsule for planned Oct. 31 launch

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SpaceX improved Crew Dragon capsule for planned Oct. 31 launch
NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts are pictured seated in the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft during training for launch in Florida on Oct. 31:  Shannon Walker, mission specialist; Victor Glover, pilot; and Mike Hopkins, Crew Dragon commander; and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist. Photo courtesy of SpaceX
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Sept. 29 (UPI) -- SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule received an improved heat shield and more powerful solar arrays for a six-month crewed mission planned to launch Oct. 31, the company said Tuesday.

Liftoff is planned for 2:40 a.m. from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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The Crew 1 mission to the International Space Station will be the first regular flight for a Dragon spacecraft, which completed a demonstration flight with two astronauts Aug. 2.

The launch will boost the number of astronauts living on the space station to seven, which is the first time in years that has occurred aside from brief overlaps when a new crew arrived.

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Flying aboard the capsule will be NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

According to NASA, the launch will be the first time an international crew will fly aboard a NASA-certified, commercially owned and operated U.S. rocket and spacecraft from American soil.

Elon Musk's SpaceX modified the design of the capsule after the demonstration flight, said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president for build and flight reliability.

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Changes include enhanced solar arrays to power the craft for 210 days and more durable heat shields around connections between the capsule and its cargo trunk.

The heat shields in those areas on the flight capsule showed slightly deeper erosion from atmospheric friction, Koenigsmann said.

The shield issue "was always a safe situation that never got through to the infrastructure, and the heat shield was working great," Koenigsmann said. "This is something we observed and changed to make sure nothing bad would ever happen."

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SpaceX also worked with the Coast Guard to plan for additional security where the capsule will land in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. During the landing of the test capsule, civilians in private boats came close as it floated in the water.

This created a potential hazard to the two astronauts aboard, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, as well as to boaters because of the potential for an explosion of unspent rocket fuel.

"We've worked with the Coast Guard to have additional assets in place to make sure that doesn't happen again," said Steve Stich, NASA's commercial crew program manager.

A successful mission will prove the value of NASA's transition away from owning spacecraft and toward contracting with commercial spaceflight companies, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a press conference Tuesday.

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"We've been able to go from flying space shuttles to now flying commercial vehicles, demonstrating that we can drive down costs and increase access," Bridenstine said.

Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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