SpaceX completed the final drop test of the Dragon crew capsule on Friday before the first launch of astronauts on the human-grade ship on May 27, while Cape Canaveral technicians mated the crew module of the spacecraft with its unpressurized trunk section.
The drop test of a C-130 cargo plane on Friday was the 27th and final test of the design of the “Mark 3” parachute that SpaceX will use for the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Drug parachutes and then four main falls deployed from a test vehicle designed to mimic the weight of the Crew Dragon upon return to Earth.
SpaceX said in a tweet that the parachute test brought the Crew Dragon closer to NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station, “and to send them back safely to Earth.”
Meanwhile, the SpaceX Dragon treatment team at Cape Canaveral connected the pressurized crew module of the spacecraft to the aft trunk of the spacecraft, which generates electricity via solar panels mounted on the body and houses radiators for thermal control in orbit.
The parachute and spacecraft processing milestones launch a busy month of preparations before the launch of the Crew Dragon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket scheduled for May 27 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The test flight will head to the International Space Station, where Behnken and Hurley will live and work for one to four months before returning to Earth for a splash in the Atlantic Ocean just off the east coast of Florida.
The launch later this month will mark the first time that astronauts have flown in Earth orbit from a U.S. spaceport since the withdrawal of the space shuttle in July 2011.
“My heart is sitting right here (it beckons to me), and I think it’s going to stay there until Bob and Doug safely return from the International Space Station,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and chief operating officer of SpaceX, in a press. conference Friday. “But by then, there is still work to be done. “
NASA has awarded SpaceX more than $ 3.1 billion since 2011 to develop, test and pilot the Crew Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX invested its own funding, but Shotwell was unable to provide a figure on Friday for the level of internal funds that SpaceX spent on developing the crew capsule.
Public-private partnership has been a feature of NASA’s strategy since the end of the space shuttle program to market transportation to and from low Earth orbit, starting with freight services for the space station launched by the capsule SpaceX dragon and the supply ship Cygnus belonging to Northrop. Grumman, formerly called Orbital ATK.
“This is a new generation, a new era in human spaceflight,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when I say it’s new, I mean NASA has had this idea for a long time that we have to buy, own and operate equipment to access space. In the past this has been true, but now in this new era … NASA has the ability to be a customer, a customer among many customers in a very robust commercial market in low Earth orbit. “
NASA selected Boeing alongside SpaceX in 2014 to design and build new commercial spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the space station. The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is unlikely to fly with astronauts before the start of 2021 after an unmanned test flight in December encountered software problems, preventing the capsule from docking with the space station.
Bridenstine said NASA and SpaceX are continuing preparations for Crew Dragon’s test flight – designated Demo-2 – amid the coronavirus pandemic while introducing new physical distance guidelines for astronauts and support teams .
“We will do it in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Bridenstine. “I will tell you that this is a high priority mission for the United States of America. As a nation, we have not had our own access to the International Space Station for nine years. “
Since the shuttle’s last flight, all astronauts on their way to the space station have flown on Russian Soyuz capsules. In the latest deal with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, NASA paid the Russian government more than $ 80 million per round trip seat on the Soyuz spacecraft.
Last year, the NASA Inspector General announced that the agency was paying SpaceX about $ 55 million per Crew Dragon seat.
NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders said on Friday that NASA and SpaceX engineers “make sure all the Is’s are dotted and the Ts are crossed” in preparation for the launch of Crew Dragon .
In addition to preparing equipment at the Kennedy Space Center, engineers from SpaceX and NASA perform pre-flight data analysis, safety assessments and readiness reviews.
The work in the coming weeks will ensure that SpaceX and NASA “are ready for this important mission to safely fly Bob and Doug to the International Space Station, serve as a lifeboat and return them to their families,” said Lueders.
“It is humiliating work,” she said. “I think we are up to the task. “
Behnken, 49, will serve as the joint operations commander for the Demo-2 mission, responsible for rendezvous, docking, undocking and other activities at the International Space Station. Hurley, 53, will be the spacecraft commander responsible for launching, landing and recovering, according to NASA.
The two astronauts joined the NASA astronaut corps in 2000, and each carried out two space shuttle missions. Behnken and Hurley are also married to other astronauts.
“I think we have a different perspective on the importance of coming to Florida, to launch an American rocket again from the coast of Florida,” said Behnken. “And generations of people who may not have had a chance to see the launch of a space shuttle, and who again have the opportunity to see human spaceflight in our own backyard, if you will , are quite exciting.
“I think it’s the most exciting thing for me, and on my first flight, I didn’t have any small children,” he said. “I didn’t have a son, so I’m really excited to share the mission with him and give him the chance to be old enough at six to see him and share it with me when I get back and while I’m in orbit. “
Hurley piloted the Atlantis shuttle during the last space shuttle mission in July 2011.
“It is high time to launch an American rocket from the Florida coast to the International Space Station, and I am certainly honored to be part of it,” said Hurley.
“We would be asked questions in the sense, well, the space program is over because the shuttle is not flying,” said Hurley. “And it certainly was not. We have had people on the International Space Station since the fall of 2000. And we continue to fly to the space station in Soyuz vehicles. So, in part, it was just a lack of public understanding of what we were continuing to do as an agency, but it was also the time it took to develop new vehicles in order to take their place. , take the place of the shuttle, to bring people to and from the United States International Space Station. “
Once Behnken and Hurley are back on Earth, NASA will officially certify the Crew Dragon for scheduled crew rotational flights to the space station, each carrying four astronauts. Another Crew Dragon is expected to launch later this year with three NASA astronauts and a Japanese space flyer.
The Dragon’s crew has been essentially in quarantine since March, when the coronavirus threat disrupted the daily lives of millions of Americans. Behnken and Hurley will begin an official quarantine protocol next week, then spend a few days inside a controlled facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston before flying to Kennedy on a NASA plane on 20 may.
The astronauts will take part in a final integrated simulation on Monday with ground controllers and heads of mission from NASA and SpaceX.
“Then we start a quarantine process that intensifies as we get closer to launch,” said Hurley. “And we also have some free time to put everything in place in our lives, because we have been busy preparing for this flight, and we will probably be in space for a few months. “
“We have a few more simulations with SpaceX, we will have skill simulations later, before going down to Kennedy,” said Hurley. “And then we’ll get down to Kennedy about six or seven days before the launch, and then spend the rest of the time (in Florida) preparing from there in the crew quarters of the astronauts there. “
SpaceX is planning a flight test preparation exam on May 8, followed by a test preparation exam led by NASA on May 11.
Lueders said Friday that NASA had investigated SpaceX’s investigation into an engine failure that occurred during a Falcon 9 launch in March. One of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines stopped prematurely during a launch with 60 Starlink Internet satellites, but the rocket overcame the malfunction and still delivered the payloads to the planned orbit.
“We are completing testing on some other components of the launcher,” said Lueders. “We looked at the resolution of the Starlink launch anomalies and actually cleared the engines for our vehicle to this failure, which is actually behind us right now.”
“But as everyone knows, the spacecraft is still being processed, the launcher is still being processed, and as you are dealing with vehicles, there are few problems that we need to solve,” said Lueders . “Most of our human certification activities are completed with this mission, so the team currently performs approximately 95% of the human rating certification for this mission.”
In mid-May, the Dragon spacecraft is expected to be transferred from a processing facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the nearby Kennedy Space Center, where the crew capsule will be attached to its Falcon 9 launcher inside. a hangar near the south perimeter of pad 39A.
Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to travel to the Florida Space Coast on May 20.
A test firing of the Falcon 9 rocket is planned for around May 22, followed the day after by a rehearsal of the “dry dress” when the astronauts put on their SpaceX flight suits in black and white and strap inside the spacecraft Crew Dragon on the launch pad. .
A launch readiness review is scheduled for May 25.
On May 27, Behnken and Hurley will don their flight suits again inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, the same facility where Apollo and the shuttle’s astronauts prepared for launch. They will ride inside a Tesla Model X from the O&C building to pad 39A, passing the iconic vehicle assembly building and the press site toward the waterfront launch complex.
They will begin boarding the Crew Dragon spacecraft approximately three hours before takeoff. SpaceX’s ground crew will close the Dragon’s side hatch and evacuate the platform before fueling the Falcon 9 rocket with super cooled kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants.
The elegant SpaceX crew access arm, installed on pad 39A in 2018, will retract approximately 42 minutes before takeoff. The Dragon’s powerful engines for abandonment will be armed 37 minutes before launch, giving astronauts the opportunity to escape an explosion or other emergency while refueling the Falcon 9 rocket.
Kerosene and liquid oxygen will begin to flow into the two-stage launcher 35 minutes before takeoff, which is scheduled for 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT) on May 27.
Assuming takeoff on May 27, the Crew Dragon should dock independently with the International Space Station on May 28 at approximately 11:29 a.m. EDT (3:29 p.m. GMT).
Hurley and Behnken will take manual control of the spacecraft at several points during the Dragon’s journey to the space station, testing their ability to pilot the capsule using new touchscreen controls in the cockpit.
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