SpaceX’s crew dragon slated to bring NASA astronauts home for the first time this weekend


This weekend, two NASA astronauts are slated to return to Earth inside SpaceX’s new passenger capsule, the Crew Dragon. This will be the first time the crew takes the dragon passengers back to the planet’s surface, eventually proving whether the vehicle can safely transport people to space and back.

Veteran astronauts Bob Bacon and Doug Hurley will board the spacecraft. The two made history in late May when they launched the International Space Station inside the Crew Dragon, marking the first time a private vehicle to take people into orbit. The launch marked the return of manned spacecraft to the US. The last time people left for the orbit from the US in 2011 was the last flight of the Space Shuttle. For nine years, NASA relied on Russian rockets to get astronauts to the ISS – but now the agency could use SpaceX’s vehicles instead.

While the launch received much fanfare, getting astronauts home is an equally important part of this mission. “From the physics point of view, we’re only working halfway,” said Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut and SpaceX advisor. The ledge. “All the energy you put in [during launch], When you come home, you have to draw out all that energy. Along with crew dragons, Bihken and Hurley, the dragon must exit the station and immerse himself in the dense atmosphere of the Earth. A heat shield should protect the crew from the intense heat created during the descent, which can reach 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Eventually, the crew will deploy a suit of dragon parachutes, slowing the vehicle down so that it drops down relatively slowly across the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX has previously brought many spacecraft back from space, but all of those vehicles had cargo versions of the Crew Dragon, which differ in size and overall function. Crew Dragon is more heterogeneous than its predecessor, thanks to the inclusion of an emergency abortion system. company is The crew was first brought back from space to Earth in March 2019 – but only once, during an unannounced test flight of the vehicle in March 2019.

SpaceX’s crew dragon, was deployed with its parachute, as it broke on its first unannounced flight test.
Image: NASA

“Bringing a spaceship home, it’s a really big deal,” said Benji Reid, director of crew mission management at SpaceX. “And it’s very important, as part of the sacred honor that we have, to make sure that we bring Bob and Doug back to their families, their children back home, and make sure they’re safe. “

The landing is the final major test for SpaceX as part of NASA’s commercial crew program aimed at developing private spacecraft to divert astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. But before they can begin flying in earnest, SpaceX must prove to NASA that its crew dragon vehicles are safe. The company had to do an unplanned test flight of the crew dragon – sending it to the station and then going back home – as part of a mission called Demo-1. Bacon and Hurley are the first part of SpaceX Crewed The test flight, a mission dubbed Demo-2.

Crew Dragon has docked since arriving at the station on 31 May. Astronauts and NASA have conducted several tons of analysis on the Crew Dragon to see how it is conducted in the atmosphere of space, and the vehicle is doing just fine. “Systems on the Dragon are doing great,” NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stich said during the conference. “The spacecraft is very healthy.”

At the moment, Bacon and Hurley are scheduled to land from the space station at approximately 7:34 am ET on Saturday, August 1. The capsule will then gradually distance itself from the ISS over the next several hours. Then on Sunday, August 2, Crew Dragon is scheduled to fire its thrusters at approximately 1:56 pm ET, taking the vehicle out of orbit. The capsule should touch the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida about an hour later around 2:42 p.m. There are seven different landing sites where the Crew Dragon can potentially touch down.

Seven possible landing sites for crew dragon
Image: NASA

All this is subject to change, as weather is a major limiting factor. The Crew Dragon is the first manned-carrying spacecraft, because the Apollo mission, when it returns to Earth, is designed to land in the water, meaning that good weather at the landing site is critical. NASA does not want astronauts to land by helicopter after pulling additional G forces on the path leading down from Earth. If things are too high, the capsule can tip over, making it difficult for astronauts to exit.

So for this landing, NASA wants calm water and winds below 10 mph at the landing site. The mission team does not want either rain or lightning in the area. Originally, things were not looking good for the landing this weekend, as Hurricane Isais was forecasted to track the east coast of Florida on Saturday and Sunday. However, SpaceX has the option of landing on the west coast of Florida if necessary, and NASA said it is advancing over time After checking the recent weather.

NASA and SpaceX may have continued to evaluate whether they needed to move the underling. But ultimately, undocking at the last minute can be called write off. “In fact, we have a period of about an hour where we can undock and if at the last moment we thought the weather or something was not right, the SpaceX team could order the vehicle and Bob or Dog would do the entire undock sequence. Can stop and stop., ”Said Reid.

Once crew dragon Does According to Risman, the spacecraft from the station means that the spacecraft is going down the most. “Once you’re separated from the space station, you’re committed to coming back,” he says. “Because you are using consumables on the vehicle – such as propellant, oxygen and so forth.” SpaceX has more flexibility When It looks like a show. According to Reid, most landing opportunities occur about 15 or 17 hours after undocking. But SpaceX can delay the splashdown until two days later if necessary. Crew Dragon has enough resources on board – such as food, oxygen, and more – to last for three days.

SpaceX’s crew was hoisted by the Dragon Company’s recovery vessel, after completion of flight tests without it.
Image: SpaceX

Once in the water, Behnken and the Hurley crew will wait inside the dragon until two of SpaceX’s recovery boats arrive. The first ship is designed to pull the crew dragon out of the water, while a crew of more than 40 people on board will help the astronauts get out of the capsule. A second boat will fix the crew dragon’s parachute, which will detach from the capsule after landing. If astronauts are facing some sort of emergency for some reason, the main recovery boat has a helipad, which enables the helicopter to quickly take out Behnachen and Hurley by splash. But if this is not necessary, the boat will take everyone ashore.

A successful landing should help the ISS pave the way for SpaceX to begin regular missions. A new crew dragon is already slated to fly at the end of September, carrying four of the space station’s crew for a long mission. And then in the spring of 2021, the crew is scheduled for another flight with a crew of Dragon Four. In fact, next year that mission will use the same crew Drew, with Bacon and Hurley coming home. Shortly after SpaceX launched this crew dragon, NASA approved the company to reuse the capsule on future flights. And SpaceX says they won’t take long to roam. “We need to be able to resurrect the dragon and be ready in just a few months,” Reid said.

But the crew dragon must come home before flying again. All eyes are on the return of Behenken and Hurley, and concern is high as the two attempt a safe landing. “As long as they’re on the boat or even until they’re on shore and I get them off the Gulfstream [jet] In Houston, while waving to the crowd, I’m still nervous, ”says Reisman.

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