This weekend, two NASA astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth inside SpaceX’s new passenger capsule, Dragon Crew. It will be the first time the Dragon Crew transports passengers to the planet’s surface, ultimately testing whether the vehicle can safely transport people into space and back.
Veteran astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be aboard the ship. The duo made history in late May as they set off for the International Space Station inside the Crew Dragon, marking the first time a privately made vehicle had taken humans into orbit. The launch heralded the return of human space flight to the US The last time humans flew into orbit from the United States was in 2011, with the last Shuttle Space flight. For nine years, NASA relied on Russian rockets to take astronauts to the ISS – but now the agency can use SpaceX vehicles instead.
While the launch received a lot of fans, taking home the astronauts is an equally critical part of this mission. “From the point of view of the laws of physics, we’re only half done,” says Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut and SpaceX adviser who previously worked on the Crew Dragon. Verge. “All the energy he put in [during launch], you should get everything from that energy when you get home. “The Dragon Crew, with Behnken and Hurley inside, will have to dive from the station and dive into the Earth’s thick atmosphere. A heat shield should protect the crew from the intense heat generated during the descent, which can reach up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit Eventually, the Crew Dragon will deploy a group of parachutes, slowing down the vehicle so that it can spray relatively gently into the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX has restored the space of numerous aircraft from space before, but all of those vehicles were freight Dragon freight versions, which are different in overall shape and function. The crew dragon is more asymmetric than its predecessor, thanks to the inclusion of an emergency abortion system. company there are brought the Dragon Crew back to Earth from space before – but only once, during an intact test flight of the vehicle in March 2019.
“Bringing a spaceship home, that’s really great,” said Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, during a landing press conference. “And it’s very important, as part of this sacred honor we have, to make sure we bring Bob and Doug back home to their families, their children, and make sure they are safe.”
This landing is the latest major test for SpaceX as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative aimed at developing a private spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. But before those flights can begin in earnest, SpaceX must prove to NASA that its Crew Dragon vehicles are safe. The company had to make an intact test flight of the Dragon Crew – sending it to the station and then back home – as part of a mission called Demo-1. Behnken and Hurley are the first part of SpaceX crewed test flight, a mission called Demo-2.
The crew dragon has remained piled up since arriving at the station on May 31st. Astronauts and NASA have done a lot of analysis on the Crew Dragon to see how it is held in the space environment, and the vehicle seems to be doing well. “Systems at Dragon are doing very well,” Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, told the conference. “Space is very healthy.”
For now, Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to unlock from the space station around 7:34 PM ET on Saturday, August 1st. The capsule will then slowly distance itself from the ISS over the next few hours. Then on Sunday, August 2, the Crew Dragon is scheduled to ignite its propellers around 1:56 a.m. ET, taking the vehicle out of orbit. The capsules are to be touched in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida about an hour later, around 02:42 PM ET. There are seven different locations where Dragon Crew can potentially affect.
All of this is subject to change, as weather is a major limiting factor. The crew dragon is the manned spacecraft, as the Apollo missions, created to land on water when it returns to Earth, which means that good weather at the landing site is essential. NASA does not want astronauts to land in shredded water after pulling extra G forces on its way to Earth. If things get too tough, the capsule could run out, making it difficult for astronauts to get out.
So for this landing, NASA wants calm waters and winds below 10 miles per hour at the landing site. The mission team wants neither rain nor lightning in the area. Initially, things were not looking good for a landing this weekend, as Hurricane Isaias was forecast to track the east coast of Florida on Saturday and Sunday. However, SpaceX has the ability to land off the west coast of Florida if needed, and NASA said it is moving forward with the schedule after a recent weather check.
NASA and SpaceX will continue to assess whether to move the unlock. But ultimately, unlocking can be called out at the last minute. “Literally, we have about an hour period where we can unlock and if at the last minute we thought the weather or something was wrong, the SpaceX team could command the vehicle and Bob or Doug could stop and stop everyone. the unlocking sequence, ”Reed said.
Once the Dragon of the crew makes unlocked from the station, this means that the spacecraft is likely to collide, according to Reisman. “Once you leave the space station, you are committed to returning,” he says. “Because you’re using onboard consumables like a vehicle – like fuel, oxygen, etc.” SpaceX has long flexibility when that splashdown occurs. Most landing opportunities occur about 15 or 17 hours after unlocking, according to Reed. But SpaceX can delay the splashdown up to two days later if necessary. The Dragon Crew also has enough resources on board – such as food, oxygen, and more – to last up to three days.
Once in the water, Behnken and Hurley will wait inside the Dragon Crew until they reach the two SpaceX recovery boats. The first spacecraft was created to pull the Dragon crew out of the water, while a crew of more than 40 people on board will help astronauts from the capsule. A second boat will recover Crew Dragon parachutes, which will detach from the capsule after landing. If for any reason astronauts are experiencing some sort of emergency, there is a helipad aboard the main recovery ship, enabling a helicopter to evacuate Behnken and Hurley quickly from the spray site. But if it is not necessary, the boat will take them all ashore.
A successful landing should help pave the way for SpaceX to start doing routine missions on the ISS. A new Crew Dragon is scheduled to fly in late September, transporting a crew of four to the space station for a longer mission. And then in the spring of 2021, the Dragon Crew is scheduled for another flight with a crew of four. In fact, that mission next year will use the same Dragon Crew that Behnken and Hurley are returning home. Only after SpaceX released this Dragon Crew did NASA approve the company to reuse the capsules on future flights. And SpaceX says it won’t take long to return them. “We need to be able to have the Dragon refurbished and ready to move on in just a matter of two months – two months,” Reed said.
But before the Dragon Crew can fly again, it must return home. All eyes are on the return of Behnken and Hurley, and the anxiety is high as they both strive for a safe landing. “While they are on the boat or even until they are ashore and I see that they are coming out of the Gulf Coast [jet] in Houston, shaking from the crowd, I will continue to be nervous, “says Reisman.