NASA Space Flight News

SpaceX, Falcon 9 for Demo-2 mission ready for critical static fire

SpaceX is readying a Falcon 9 rocket for its static fire test ahead of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission. The static fire is part of the ongoing series of final tests and reviews before SpaceX embarks on its first human spaceflight mission. The test is scheduled to take place today no earlier than 16:33 EDT (20:33 UTC).

The test is the final time NASA has to gather data on SpaceX’s load-and-go fueling process as Demo-2 will be the first time NASA allows a rocket to be fueled for flight with a crew onboard.

Demo-2’s launch is currently set for May 27th at 16:33:31 EDT (20:33:31 UTC). If a problem comes up that necessitates a scrub – such as poor weather or a vehicle issue – the next available date would be May 30th.

The flight will mark the first crewed orbital mission from the United States since July 2011, when the Space Shuttle was retired. The Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) for one to four months depending on Dragon’s on-orbit performance.

But before that can happen, one of the last major milestones before flight is has to take place: the static fire.

The test consists of a complete rehearsal of most launch day activities. SpaceX has performed at least one static fire before every mission to date – all the way back to the Falcon 1.

First stage B1058 in the HIF, sporting the iconic NASA worm logo. Credit: NASA

A day prior to the test, teams rolled the completed Falcon 9 stack out of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to launch pad LC-39A and raised it vertical. This specific rocket contains first stage core B1058 on what will be its first flight.

NASA will require new boosters on all Crew Dragon flights, at least initially.

Notably, this launch will also be the first to feature NASA’s worm logo since STS-93/Columbia in 1999.

The static fire test follows the same countdown as an actual launch – including fueling 35 minutes before engine ignition on the test.

Propellant load of the first stage with RP-1 kerosene and densified Liquid Oxygen begins at this time, as does RP-kerosene loading of stage 2. Liquid Oxygen begins flowing into the second stage at T-16 minutes.

At T-3 seconds, the nine Merlin 1D engines on the first stage are ignited for a brief test-firing.

For most missions, SpaceX only performs a 3.5-second firing. However, for certain high-profile missions, or those with reused first stages, they sometimes opt for a longer 7-second test. It is unclear how long Demo-2’s firing will be.

Falcon 9 rolling out of the HIF ahead of the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission in January 2019. Credit: SpaceX

After the test, SpaceX and NASA personnel will perform a deep dive into the data gathered to assess how the vehicle performed.

Closer to the launch date, a final in-depth analyses of all launch-related systems will take place. The Launch Readiness Review will then clear SpaceX and NASA to proceed to launch day with Demo-2.

On launch day, Hurley and Behnken will wake up and eat a traditional pre-launch breakfast at T-5 hours. From there, the two will suit up and ride to LC-39A in Tesla Model X SUVs. They will then ascend to the 265-foot level of the Fixed Service Structure (FSS). The two will walk across the Crew Access Arm and board Crew Dragon 2 hours 35 minutes prior to launch.

At T-42 minutes, the Crew Access Arm will be retracted away in preparation for fueling.

The exact timing of propellant loading into the Falcon 9 had been the subject of a major debate in the Commercial Crew Program for several years.

Two different fueling procedures were proposed. The first would involve completely fueling the rocket, then loading the astronauts into the capsule. The second – aptly named “load-and-go” – has the astronauts board Dragon prior to fueling.

One of the two Tesla Model X SUVs that will transport astronauts from the crew quarters to LC-39A. Credit: NASA

SpaceX preferred the load-and-go method because of the Falcon 9’s use of chilled propellants. The rocket’s performance was increased substantially by cooling the liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants to near their freezing points, thus increasing their density. Higher-density propellants allow for more vehicle performance while using the same-sized tanks. If SpaceX had to fuel the rocket prior to astronauts boarding, the propellants would heat up – impacting the vehicle’s performance.

The load-and-go procedure received heavy scrutiny following the on-pad conflagration of a Falcon 9 rocket in September 2016, ahead of what would have been the launch of Amos-6. The cause of the anomaly was narrowed to solid oxygen forming and igniting with the carbon fiber of the composite-overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs), which store helium gas to pressurize the tanks.

To prevent future formation of solid oxygen, SpaceX modified their fueling procedures.

Certain officials – notably Gemini and Apollo astronaut Thomas Stafford – were concerned by the incident. However, following in-depth studies of vehicle systems and performance, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) approved the load-and-go procedure in May 2018.

Fueling under this process lasts until just a couple minutes before liftoff. Falcon 9’s tanks are then pressurized for flight at T-1 minutes.

The final “Go for launch” determination and call will be made at T-45 seconds by the SpaceX Launch Director.

At T-3 seconds, the first stage engines ignite. If the onboard computers detect no issues, liftoff occurs at T-0.

The first stage’s engines will cut off T+2 minutes 33 seconds into flight. It will then attempt a landing on SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) Of Course I Still Love You.

The ASDS Of Course I Still Love You at sea. Credit: SpaceX

After Falcon 9’s second stage places Crew Dragon into a Low Earth Orbit, Hurley and Behnken will perform several tests on the vehicle – including taking manual control just before docking to the ISS. The transit to the station will take approximately 19 hours.

Once they arrive, the two astronauts will live and work onboard the Station for one to four months before returning to Earth.

The mission’s exact duration has not been decided, but will be capped at 119 days.

After Dragon splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, SpaceX’s twin recovery ships GO Searcher and GO Navigator will recover the crew and capsule.

If all goes well, the first operational Crew Dragon mission, dubbed Crew-1, will liftoff from LC-39A about one month after Demo-2 lands.

(Lead image: SpaceX)

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NASA Space Flight News

Planet Labs SkySats to rideshare with SpaceX Starlink launches

Planet Labs Inc. has announced they will launch six SkySat satellites, SkySat 16-21, on Falcon 9 rockets as rideshare missions on two Starlink launches. These six satellites will help provide Planet with more imaging coverage to complement the 15 other SkySat satellites, SkySat 1-15, in Sun-Synchronous Orbits (SSO).

(Lead Image: Julia Bergeron, NSF)

Over the spring and summer, Planet will launch SkySat 16-21 on two Falcon 9 rockets. The first three satellites, SkySat 16-18 will launch on the ninth Starlink (L8) mission which is targeted for some time in June. SkySat 19-21 will launch on another mission later in the summer.

Both will launch from SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) launch site.

SLC-40 photo by Thomas Burghardt for NSF

SpaceX has launched multiple Planet satellites over many years. Many Flock satellites have launched on Falcon 9 on Dragon missions to the International Space Station (ISS), while the SkySat satellites have only launched once on a Falcon 9. Skysat 14-15 was launched with at least 60 satellites on the SSO-A rideshare mission back in December 2018.

The SkySats are launching under the SpaceX Rideshare Program, first started in Q3 of 2019. SpaceX has signed multiple contracts to launch SmallSats on the Rideshare mission. Momentus, Exolaunch, and now Planet have signed to launch on Rideshare missions. The first dedicated rideshare mission will launch NET December 2020 at SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Planet has 15 SkySats in orbit including, two SkySat prototypes launched in 2013 and 2014. The first operational SkySat, SkySat 3, was launched in June 2016 on a PSLV-XL, SkySat 4-7 on Vega in September of 2016, and 8-13 on the return to flight of the Minotaur-C on October 2017.

SkySat fleet as envisioned by Planet Labs

SkySat 1-15 launched to SSO, compared to SkySat 16-21 which will launch to a 53° inclination orbit.

SSO is a type of orbit where the surface is illuminated at the same angle each time the satellite passes overhead. Half of the SkySats pass overhead in a morning plane and the other in the afternoon plane. They can provide a twice-daily coverage of select areas on a global scale. The SkySat 16-21 will compliment the SSO fleet and will offer more targeted coverage, better rapid-revisits, and improved raw image capacity in certain geographic regions.

The launch of the SkySat 16-21 and development of the enhanced 50 cm imagery can help Planet provide groundbreaking imagery.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has also conducted a Static Fire test ahead of the SpaceX Starlink-8 (L7) mission.

On May 12, 2020, SpaceX rolled out a Falcon 9 to SLC-40 to prepare for the Starlink-8 mission. In the morning of the 13th, the Falcon 9 conducted a several second Static Fire test in order to test the engines ahead of the launch.

The static fire happened much sooner than compared to other Starlink missions. Most Starlink static fires are 1-2 days before the launch, but this test was expedited as ULA will soon do preparations to roll out the Atlas V at SLC-41 for the USSF-7 mission. The USSF-7 and the Starlink-8 mission will occur 20 hours from each other at Cape Canaveral, a fast turnaround by Cape Canaveral standards.

The eighth Starlink mission will use B1049.5, the second time SpaceX has flown a booster for the 5th time. B1049.5 flew the Telstar-18 Vantage, Iridium-8, Starlink-1 (V0.9), and Starlink-3. The last mission to use a booster that has flown five times was B1048.5 on Starlink-6 (L5).

Starlink-6 had an ignition abort on its first launch attempt due to engine high power. It then launched three days later before suffering a mid-flight engine-out at T+2:21 seconds, which was caused by a small amount of isopropyl alcohol getting trapped in a sensor dead leg that had ignited. B1048.5 was lost on recovery shortly after.

Starlink-7 (L6) then flew in April on B1051.4 and had a successful flight and recovery.

Starlink-8 is the final launch before Demo-2. The SpaceX DM-2 mission is the first time American astronauts will launch from a US rocket since the Space Shuttle era.

The crew, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have entered the two-week quarantine that is required for all crewed missions, while the C206 Crew Dragon – that will be used for the Demo-2 mission – has been mounted to the Falcon 9. The Demo-2 mission will fly on B1058.1 at LC-39A on May 27th at 16:33 EDT.

The Starlink-8 mission will take place on May 17th at 03:53 am EDT from SLC-40.

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News RT

NASA quietly buys additional Soyuz seat as SpaceX prepares for historic manned space flight — RT World News

NASA has inked a deal with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to allow a US astronaut to travel into space aboard a Soyuz rocket in the fall, even as SpaceX gears up for its first manned launch later this month.

“A contract was signed today on providing a seat for a US astronaut onboard a Soyuz MS manned spaceship to be launched to the ISS in the autumn of 2020,” Roscosmos told Tass on Tuesday.

Though the agency refused to disclose the sum Washington paid for the seat, calling it “a commercial secret,” NASA spokespeople told reporters the deal was valued at $90.25 million, which includes the cost of the flight, as well as training and pre-launch and post-landing services.

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said earlier this month that the two countries were close to an agreement for the seat, saying it was to be signed “within days” and stressing that American astronauts should always have access to the International Space Station (ISS), where the Soyuz will head in autumn.

SpaceX – the private spacecraft firm founded by Elon Musk – meanwhile, is preparing for a historic manned mission to the ISS on May 27, which will see NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken ride the company’s Falcon 9 rocket into orbit, and then link up with the ISS aboard its Crew Dragon capsule. Depending on how well the gear performs, the duo will remain in space between one and four months, and will be replaced by a crew of four.

After suffering a series of delays, the upcoming launch will mark the first manned US space mission initiated from American soil since 2011, when NASA scrapped its shuttle program, forcing its astronauts to hitch rides aboard Russian craft to the tune of millions of dollars per seat.

At a recent briefing, NASA’s program manager for the ISS, Kirk Shireman, said that the decision to purchase additional Soyuz seats will depend on whether SpaceX can offer “repeatable” missions on the Crew Dragon, not merely one successful manned flight, adding “We’ll watch how things progress” before looking to buy another slot on a Russian rocket.

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Defense News

Space launch can grow alongside aviation

Anticipated increases in the frequency of space launches will soon require careful consideration for use of crowded airspace.

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Defense News

A bankrupt OneWeb could get some help from the Defense Department

“I will say with respect to OneWeb specifically…we continue to work,” the Space Force’s No. 2 officer said Tuesday.

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NASA Space Flight News

NASA Selects Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX Human Landers for Artemis

NASA has selected three companies to develop Human Landing Systems (HLS) to support future crewed moon landings. Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX will develop their designs over a ten month period, before a down-selection to one or two vehicles that will fly uncrewed demonstration missions. The Artemis III mission will then utilize one of these vehicles to land humans on the moon, as soon as 2024.

The three awarded designs are drastically different from each other, utilizing different numbers of stages and offering different balances between performance and schedule risk. Blue Origin was awarded $579 million for its design, which was associated with the least schedule risk of the three offerings. Dynetics was awarded $253 million, and SpaceX was awarded $135 million, noting that significant schedule risk was associated with the Starship system. The Starship and Dynetics designs, however, more closely resembled the sustainable, reusable capabilities NASA wishes to utilize in the long term.

Additional submissions by Boeing and Vivace Corp. were removed from consideration early in the source selection process.

Blue Origin’s National Team

Blue Origin’s proposal leverages experience from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper to produce a three stage lander. Each stage, or element, is launched separately aboard the New Glenn and Vulcan launch vehicles. The “National Team” has strong ties to both launch vehicles; New Glenn is operated by Blue Origin, and Vulcan utilizes Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine and Northrop Grumman’s GEM-63XL solid rocket boosters. Lockheed Martin is also a parent company of Vulcan’s operator, United Launch Alliance.

The Blue Origin vehicle can also be launched fully integrated aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), but there are currently no plans to make an SLS rocket available to launch HLS elements.

The lander is capable of docking either to the Lunar Gateway station or directly to the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday that it is “unlikely” NASA will utilize the Gateway for initial landings.

Once the Artemis III crew transfers to the lander, the Cygnus-based Northrop Grumman Transfer Element delivers the lander to Low Lunar Orbit. From there, the Blue Origin-developed Descent Element completes the final descent to the lunar surface.

The Descent Element is powered by two Blue Origin BE-7 engines and is an adaptation of their Blue Moon lander design. Once the surface mission is complete, the Lockheed Martin Ascent Element, based on Orion spacecraft hardware, returns to either the Lunar Gateway or Orion for the crew’s return to Earth. The Ascent Element can be refueled to perform multiple ascents from the lunar surface, utilizing new transfer and descent elements.

The HLS source selection statement released by NASA outlines the methodology behind the selections of all three awardees. In selecting the Blue Origin vehicle, NASA cited a “highly effective, human-centric approach for its rendezvous, proximity operations, docking and undocking system,” resulting in reduced crew workload and improved safety. The spaceflight experience of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman was also identified as a strength of the Blue Origin proposal.

Blue Origin’s proposal also meets or exceeds every single performance requirement set by NASA, including the long term goal values for future evolved, sustainable operations. Other strengths outlined in the Blue Origin proposal were a “comprehensive, detailed plan for training and certification of launch and mission operations personnel” and they plan to demonstrate the Descent Element in 2023. The uncrewed demonstration mission would land at the same landing site as selected for the 2024 crewed landing.

The only technical weakness identified by NASA is the power and propulsion system, which “has numerous attributes that introduce appreciable risk into its proposal.” However, the concern with the system was not attributed to a flawed design, but rather the reliance on an aggressive development timeline. The report concludes that this weakness does not outweigh the many strengths of the Blue Origin design.

Dynetics Human Landing System

The Dynetics HLS is a two stage design that utilizes horizontal drop tanks during descent. Dynetics plans to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, although the design is capable of launching on multiple launch vehicles.

Render of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the lunar surface – via Dynetics

Like the Blue Origin proposal, the Dynetics HLS is capable of docking either to the Lunar Gateway or to Orion. The capability to abort a landing at any time during descent and the low-sitting crew cabin were highlighted as positive capabilities of the Dynetics vehicle. Dynetics also plans to conduct an uncrewed demonstration landing prior to any crewed missions.

Also, like the Blue Origin proposal, Dynetics meets or exceeds all performance requirements and goal values. But Dynetics also had a similar weakness with their power and propulsion system, demanding an “unprecedented” pace of development. The report does state, though, that Dynetics’ system is “exactly the kind of innovative solution that NASA sought through the HLS solicitation,” counterbalancing the risk associated with the system.

The Dynetics HLS is easily adapted into a large cargo delivery system, and meets or exceeds all sustainability requirements for the HLS program, and the primary element of the lander is reusable. Of the three HLS proposals selected, Dynetics earned the highest technical and management ratings.

Dynetics is partnering with several other companies to complete HLS development. Notably, the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) will lead development of the crew module. SNC is leveraging lessons learned from the Commercial Resupply Services program, where they are planning to debut the Dream Chaser spacecraft next year, and their experience developing a prototype for the Lunar Gateway habitat module.

SpaceX Starship

The third vehicle selected by NASA is SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. Starship is the only HLS selected that is fully reusable, and the only single stage design. While the Starship vehicle is not a new proposal, there appear to be new changes and details for the variant of Starship which would serve the HLS role.

A flight profile to the lunar surface would see a fuel tanker variant of Starship launched to Low Earth Orbit first, utilizing the Super Heavy booster. The crew-rated Starship would launch second, rendezvous with the tanker in order to refuel, and then perform a trans-lunar injection to lunar orbit. Like the other HLS proposals, Starship is capable of docking either to Orion or the Lunar Gateway.

While the Starship’s primary propulsion is still the Raptor engine, it would likely use a different engine to perform the final descent to the lunar surface, according to renders SpaceX shared on social media. These thrusters appear higher up on the vehicle and are likely to mitigate the potential hazards with powerful engine plumes near the lunar surface.

Render of the Starship HLS during final descent to the lunar surface – via SpaceX

The renders also show a lack of aerodynamic control surfaces, meaning that the Starship would never return to land on Earth. Instead, the spacecraft would travel to and from the lunar surface many times. The vehicle offers a payload capability of up to 100 tons to the lunar surface.

Starship meets or exceeds all performance requirements, and features a significant strength in extravehicular activity (EVA) support capabilities. According to NASA’s source selection statement, Starship thoroughly addressed these requirements with an effective dust mitigation strategy and two fully redundant airlocks.

Other strengths of the Starship proposal include the immediate capability to support sustainable operations through full reusability and plans to conduct numerous ground and flight demonstrations. The Starhopper and Starship flight test campaign is already underway at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and the Raptor engine has been tested extensively on test stands in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX plans to conduct a Low Earth Orbit demonstration of Starship and the Super Heavy booster, a reflight of a Starship vehicle, a long duration orbital Starship mission, and a flight beyond Low Earth Orbit, all prior to an uncrewed lunar landing demonstration mission in 2022. Through these flights, in-space propellant transfer between Starship vehicles would also be demonstrated.

NASA did highlight two weaknesses with SpaceX’s proposal. Starship’s propulsion systems were described as “notably complex,” and the report referred to prior delays under the Commercial Crew program and Falcon Heavy launch vehicle development as evidence for potential threats to their development schedule. However, the report also commends the rigorous testing and demonstration plans as a potential mitigation to these concerns.

NASA will monitor and review the development process of all three vehicles leading up to a down-selection in February 2021. Following the down-selection and the completion of uncrewed demonstration missions, one HLS will be chosen to land crew on the moon. This landing, no earlier than 2024, would be the Artemis III mission, following the Artemis I mission to lunar orbit with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft in 2021 and a crewed free return Artemis II mission in 2022.

The Orion spacecraft for Artemis I is undergoing launch preparations at the Kennedy Space Center, and the core stage of the SLS rocket is at the Stennis Space Center awaiting the crucial Green Run test.

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NASA Space Flight News

NASA, SpaceX enters the critical month of May on track to end the gap

With the news SpaceX completed the 27th and the final test of the upgraded Mark-3 parachutes for the Crew Dragon spacecraft on the day of a series of flagship news conferences, there is growing excitement ahead of the return to US domestic crew launch capability as soon as the end of this month.  SpaceX’s Demonstration Mission-2 (DM-2) mission duration also received an update, with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noting it will be extended from its shorter planned stay.

“We have extended planned length of Demo-2 from standard test flight to ensure Behnken & Hurley can participate as Expedition 63 crew members,” he noted.

Bridenstine also repeated his message that NASA does not want tourists and other space fans to travel to the Kennedy Space Center for the DM-2 launch due to COVID-19 concerns. Instead, he hopes the public would follow the mission at home on NASA TV.

The recent MK3 parachute test. Photo Credit: SpaceX.

The crew will consist of Doug Hurley as “Spacecraft Commander” and Bob Behnken as “Joint Operations Commander”.

Hurley previously flew on STS-127 and the final Shuttle mission, STS-135 in 2011. Behnken previously flew on STS-123 and STS-130. Behnken also was assigned to STS-400 which was a contingency rescue mission that was never needed.

“Just yesterday (April 30), we had an all-day meeting doing our staged Operational Readiness Review for the SpaceX Demo-2 launch,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA Program Manager, International Space Station.

“I am very pleased to announce that we passed that review successfully and moving on to our subsequent milestones culminating in a Flight Readiness Review and Launch Readiness Reviews in the very near future.”

It was revealed during the press conference that one issue from the Mission Elapsed Time (MET) anomaly – which occurred on the maiden flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, Orbital Flight Test-1 – did impact on the preparations for the Crew Dragon’s flight.

SpaceX was directed by NASA to make sure that Crew Dragon could lock on to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) network after launch, as already proven during the previous DM-1 mission in 2019.

“I want to make it clear that this is one of many exciting and hard days we have in front of us. Gwynne’s team and my team are intelligently working on getting the vehicles ready,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA Program Manager, Commercial Crew Program – pointing to numerous milestones yet to be passed in the run-up to launch.

This includes May 4, when the crew will participate in a Crew Dry Dress Rehearsal for the launch, similar to the one prior to the In-Flight Abort test in January.

Hurley and Behnken stand next to one of the two Tesla Model Xs. Photo Credit: NASA.

The crew will enter quarantine starting May 16 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. After a period of time, Hurley and Behnken will fly east to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where they will enter their stay in the Crew Quarters.

Crew Quarters is where NASA mission crews stay prior to launch. The complex has been renovated from its configuration from the Shuttle Program.

The launch of Demo-2 is currently scheduled for May 27.

“We have worked with NASA since 2006, and all that work is culminating in this historic event that we have up and coming in the next few weeks. My heart is up to here (throat) and I think it is going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the International Space Station,” added SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell.

Hurley and Behnken will enter the suit-up room and will don their SpaceX launch and entry suits at about four hours prior to launch. Around three hours before launch, the crew will depart the Crew Quarters inside one of the two white Tesla Model X cars, an expected move from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The vehicles will be located in the middle of a motorcade for security reasons, like Shuttle missions in the past.

The two Teslas will then arrive at Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The crew and their support teams will then take an elevator ride up to the 255 foot level of the Fixed Service Structure (FSS).

The Gaseous Oxygen arm (GOX) used to be located at the 255 foot level. Hurley and Behnken previously entered the Space Shuttle Orbiter at the Orbiter Access Arm (OAA) on their missions on the 195 foot level on the FSS.

Both the FSS and the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) served Shuttle launches for the program until the conclusion of it in 2011.

Since then, the RSS has been demolished, a crew access arm has been installed, and the slidewire baskets have been raised to the same level that the crew access arm is located. Some other cosmetic modifications have also been made.

The astronauts will then enter the spacecraft and the hatch will be subsequently closed. At the T-38 minute mark, the crew arm will be retracted. This will be followed by the activation of the abort system.

The DM-2 mission will be using a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. Specifically, booster 1058.1 will be used and sports special livery. The side of the booster will feature the NASA worm logo along with the NASA meatball and an American flag. The other side will feature the standard SpaceX livery. The meatball and flag will also be on both sides of the second stage.

At the T-35 minute mark, the fueling will begin, a procedure that SpaceX calls “load and go.” This is different from the Space Shuttle, which was fully fueled when the crew arrived.

At 4:32 pm EST, Hurley and Behnken will launch from LC-39A on Crew Dragon C206. If there is a scrub on launch day, there is a backup launch window scheduled for May 30.

“We recently had a video put together by the team down in Florida on the SpaceX side that combined the video of the ascent of both the Demo-1 mission and the In-Flight Abort mission with the audio. That combination of video and audio let us hear all of the cues from engine start to engine shutdown to parachute deploys which was a real cool thing to be able to see,” said Astronaut Bob Behnken.

“We are expecting a smooth ride, but we are expecting a loud ride, especially at the beginning of the mission.”

The final space shuttle launch, STS-135

An advancement from the Shuttle era – which had three types of abort modes, Return To Launch Site (RTLS), Trans Atlantic Landing (TAL), and Abort to Orbit, each with their own varying levels of risk – the crew on Dragon have a “safe way out” through the ascent.

“This thing (Crew Dragon) has end to end abort capability. That perspective for me is huge compared to Shuttle where there were black zones. There were scenarios where it didn’t really matter if you had the right combination of failures, you were likely not going survive an abort,” added Hurley.

The Crew Dragon is similar to the Space Shuttle in the way that the weather in the recovery zones may cause scrubs. So, the chances of a scrub are significantly higher than a Cygnus launch from Wallops or a Cargo Dragon launch to the station.

Hurley and Behnken next to LC-39A prior to the IFA test in January. Photo Credit: NASA.

Booster 1058.1 will attempt an autonomous landing on the SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” downrange of the Kennedy Space Center in the Atlantic Ocean.

If Dragon launches as planned on May 27, the spacecraft should arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) on May 28.

Like all other crewed NASA missions,  Crew Dragon flights will have a CAPCOM controller from NASA talking to the crew during the mission. But, SpaceX will also introduce the CORE position which will be a group of SpaceX people who can talk to the crew at any time.

Crew Dragon will approach the ISS from the nadir or Earth-facing side. The spacecraft will then enter the Keep Out Sphere and the Approach Ellipsoid. The spacecraft will then approach the ISS from the forward direction.

A simulation showing Crew Dragon approaching the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA TV.

Around 200 meters from the ISS, Hurley will take the controls to test the manual control capabilities of the spacecraft during approach if the automation failed. After holding in that position, the spacecraft will then autonomously take control for the rest of the docking process, which will include a final go, no-go poll 20 meters from the station.

Crew Dragon will then dock to the IDA-2 which is attached to PMA-2 on the forward port of the Harmony module. Space Shuttle Atlantis also docked to the same port on STS-135. The mission will only be the second time that an American spacecraft has autonomously docked to the ISS.

“Dragon is the most advanced spacecraft. It should be inspiring in look – just like the control system – which is a “modern feat of engineering” utilizing touchscreens,” said Benji Reed, Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX.

Once on the ISS, both Hurley and Behnken will give Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy some more help since he currently is the sole astronaut on the American segment.

Hurley and Behnken will be able to take the American flag that Hurley left himself in 2011 on STS-135.

The DM-2 crew will stay on the ISS for a minimum of 30 days and with a maximum stay of 119 days. The spacecraft’s stay on the ISS is limited due to the degradation of the solar cells on the solar panels which are on the trunk below the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Soyuz too has a limited on orbit life which is due to the degradation of the hydrogen peroxide thrusters.

After undocking, the spacecraft will remain on orbit for two days. Then the Crew Dragon will de-orbit and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off of Florida. Reed also said that the goal for SpaceX is that the crew will be extracted from the spacecraft in under an hour.

“As far as splashing down in the water, we do expect it to be a little softer than a Soyuz landing, but definitely harder than a Space Shuttle landing,” said Behnken.

The crew and the spacecraft will then board the SpaceX recovery craft Go Searcher. Another SpaceX ship, Go Navigator will also be in the recovery zone to assist.

The Crew-1 capsule in its current state. Photo Credit: NASA.

The next SpaceX Crew Dragon launch will be USCV-1 also known as Crew-1, the mission will be the first long-duration Crew Dragon mission. The Crew-1 capsule, C207 is currently in the cleanroom at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The crew will consist of NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

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