SpaceX gets stunning heat-shield wear after NASA’s astronaut mission


  • SpaceX discovered an unexpected erosion on the crew shield Drew spaceship’s heat shield after its first astronaut mission.
  • A SpaceX executive said the crew members – NASA astronauts Bob Bacon and Doug Hurley – were never in danger.
  • But as a precaution, SpaceX has updated the heat shield ahead of its next crew launch in October.
  • For more stories visit the Business Insider homepage.

Officials on Tuesday discovered unexpected damage to part of their crew dragon space capsule after carrying its first astronaut this summer.

The DEMO-2 mission sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on 30 May. The two stayed there for two months, then forecast a furious fall through the Earth’s atmosphere to filter into the Gulf of Mexico on 2 August. .

But after the company reopened and studied the toasted space capsule, the testers noticed something unusual: deep erosion on the crew shield’s heat shield.

The thermal protection system is a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spacecraft’s weak underbelly. It protects crew dragons by deflecting and absorbing heat that can reach 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space capsule dips through the atmosphere and creates superheated plasma upon its return to Earth.

SpaceX hoped to find some wear and tear, but not much of it.

spacex crew dragon spacecraft atmospheric reentry hot plasma heat shield earth return youtube sm

A depiction of SpaceX’s crew dragon spaceship, returning to Earth with an explosion of plasma next to its heat shield.

SpaceX via YouTube



“We found that on a tile, a little bit more erosion, that we wanted to see,” SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability Hans Koigsman told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday.

Koenigsmann stated that the affected part of the heat shield is close to the “tension ties” that connect the Crew Dragon to its large cylindrical trunk. (The trunk helps the spacecraft circulate into orbit, but is thrown away before the spacecraft reopens.) One of the four areas surrounded by those stress relationships got away with being rubbed with hot-plasma Because Behenken and Hurley return to Earth.

Nevertheless, the spacecraft and its crew returned home safely despite the unexpected problem.

“Astronauts were safe at all times and the vehicle was fully functioning,” Koenigsman said.

NASA and SpaceX revamped heat shield for next astronaut mission

Before Bacon and Hurley returned to Earth, Space X’s CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, said that the Reventry was the part of the mission he most worried about.

NASA surveyed the heat shield for further damage to that return flight, while the crew dragon capsule was still docked at the space station. While attached to its two-month orbiting laboratory, small pieces of space debris could damage the ship’s heat shield. The inspection relied on a robot arm on the space station and some ship’s cameras but did not trigger any problems.

It was only after Behnken and Hurley returned safely to Earth that SpaceX discovered a weak spot in its heat shield.

But these issues were to find Bacon and Hurley’s flight and remove iron.

While he was considered a demo mission, Crew Drew is set to take the crew on their first regular mission known as Crew-1. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi plan to board the Crew Dragon on October 31.

Kosegsman said that NASA and SpaceX have already strengthened the weaker part of the heat shield ahead of that flight.

Spacecraft crew 1

NASA Crew-1 crew members in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (left to right): NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, as well as Jaxa’s astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

SpaceX via NASA


“We have turned a lot of materials into better materials,” Steve Spaceich, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which oversees SpaceX’s astronaut mission, told reporters on Tuesday. “We have improved the area between these tiles.”

NASA tested five samples of new tiles in a simulated environment that mimic the wind tunnel at the Ames Research Center in California.

“I believe we fixed this particular problem very well,” Koenigsman said. “Everything has been tested and is ready to go for the next mission.”

It is unclear why the extreme heat-shield erosion did not show up on the pre-demo mission, an un-tested flight that launched the Crew Dragon, docked at the space station, and with no human passengers back on Earth. didn `t come. Koenigsmann speculated that the capsule may not have experienced the problem because it was lighter and had a slightly different trajectory on that mission.

“At the end of the day, it’s great that we found it on this ride”, he said. “It was not an unsafe situation at all. This is the kind of thing we saw and then, basically, changed to make sure nothing bad would ever happen.”

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