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NASA and SpaceX set historic first astronaut launch for May 27

NASA and SpaceX have set a specific date and time target for their historic first astronaut launch aboard a private spacecraft from U.S. soil, with a planned date of May 27 and a target liftoff time of 4:32 PM EDT (1:32 PM PDT) from Kennedy Space Center, at SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39). The mission had been previously announced to be tracking toward a mid to late-May launch time frame, but now we know exactly when the agency and SpaceX hope to launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley for this inaugural trip to the International Space Station.

The launch is the first crewed mission in NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which seeks to return American launch capabilities to U.S. soil through private partnerships, with both SpaceX and Boeing taking part and developing their own separate launch vehicles and crew craft. SpaceX has taken all the steps necessary to get to this stage ahead of Boeing, and this flight, called Demo-2, while still technically part of the test program, will see NASA’s astronauts visit the space station for “an extended stay,” with a full duration yet to be determined.

This final test will validate each aspect of the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 launch system, including the pad from which the rocket takes off, the operational facilities on the ground, orbital systems and astronaut procedures. Pending successful completion of all those elements, Crew Dragon should be set for full operational certification, after which time it can begin regularly scheduled service of delivering astronauts to and from the ISS.

For the mission, Crew Dragon will launch with Behnken and Hurley, then enter orbit and rendezvous with the ISS, which should occur around 24 hours after liftoff. The spacecraft is designed to dock fully autonomously with the station (and has done so on a previous occasion during an uncrewed demo mission), then Behnken and Hurley will disembark and join as members of the ISS crew, performing research on the orbital science platform.

The Crew Dragon flying this mission is designed to stay on orbit for around 110 days, but its actual length of stay will be decided by how ready the commercial crew mission to follow is at the time of launch. That Crew Dragon, which is the fully operational version, is designed for stays of at least 210 days, and the crew complement of four astronauts, including three from NASA and one from Japan’s space agency, is already determined. If all goes well, it’ll happen sometime later this year.

Crew Dragon from Demo-2 will perform an automated undocking from the ISS with Behnken and Hurley on board when it is ready to leave, and then they’ll re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and have a controlled splashdown landing in the Atlantic Ocean, where a SpaceX ship will pick them up and bring them back to Florida.

Obviously, NASA and SpaceX are facing challenges, along with everyone else, with the global COVID-19 crisis ongoing, but the agency has taken extra precautions to ensure this mission continues, since NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine notes that continued U.S. access to, and presence within the ISS is critical.

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Boeing to re-fly uncrewed demo mission of their human spacecraft after first try met with errors

Boeing has confirmed what many suspected following the partial failure of their original Starliner capsule Orbital Flight Test (OFT) – the company will re-fly the mission, once again seeking to test and demonstrate the Starliner’s launch, flight, Space Station docking and landing capabilities prior to flying a version of the mission with actual astronauts on board.
In a statement, Boeing said that it “has chosen” to re-fly the mission, in order to “demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system.” The aim will be to do all the test objectives that were on the table the first time around, the statement …

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First crewed SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launch could happen in Q2 this year

SpaceX and NASA hosted a press conference following their successful test of the Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort system on Sunday to discuss the mission and next steps. The first question asked by media in attendance was about what this means for the timeline for a mission with actual crew on board, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk provided an answer sketching out a rough schedule of events.

“The hardware necessary for the first crewed launch, we believe will be ready by the end of February,” he said. “However, there’s still a lot of work once the hardware is ready to just cross-check everything, triple-check, quadruple-check, go over everything everything again until every every stone has been turned over three or four times. And then there’s also the schedule for getting to the Space Station, because the Space Station has a lot of lot of things going to it, so what’s the right timing because, and the collective wisdom at this point is that we think that hardware will be ready in q1, most likely in February, but no later than March, and that we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine followed up with additional perspective from the agency’s side, noting that there could be some shifting mission parameters for that first trip that change the timing of when it actually goes up.

“I think, I think that’s a very fair assessment,” Bridenstine said. “I would also say we have to make some decisions on our end from a NASA perspective. Do we want that first crew to be a short duration, or do we want it to be a longer duration? If it’s going to be a longer duration, then we have to have some additional training for our astronauts to actually be prepared to do things on the International Space Station that we weren’t planning to have that initial test crew necessarily do.”

Bridenstine added that those decisions will be made in the “coming weeks,” and depending on whether they opt to make this first mission a quick trip, or a longer duration mission with more objectives, it could change their timing due to scheduling and training requirements for the astronauts actually going up aboard Crew Dragon.

Source: TechCrunch

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut spacecraft has a key launch Saturday — here’s what’s going down

Update: Due to weather conditions, SpaceX and NASA won’t be attempting their launch Saturday, and will instead look to their backup window on Sunday. Weather for Sunday also isn’t looking great today, so this could shift again. Stay tuned for updates.

SpaceX and NASA are getting ready for a key test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon commercial crew spacecraft on Saturday, and this should be the last major milestone that SpaceX has to pass in terms of demonstration missions before actual crew climb aboard the spaceship for a trip to the International Space Station. Starting at 8 AM ET (5 AM PT), a launch window opens during which SpaceX will hopefully perform what’s called an “in-flight abort” test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle, to demonstrate how its safety systems would protect astronauts on board in the unlikely event of an unexpected incident during a real crew flight.

The plan for this mission is to launch the Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 — in this case, one that’s using a refurbished booster stage previously flown on three prior missions. This will be the Falcon 9’s last flight, however, as the plan includes loss of the rocket this time around instead of a controlled landing. The launch is intentionally being terminated early — just after the rocket achieves its “Max Q” point, or the moment during its flight when it’s under maximum atmospheric stress, at about 84 seconds post-liftoff.

At that point, the rocket will be about 19 kilometres (roughly 62,000 feet) above the surface of the Earth, and about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX has rigged the Dragon spacecraft’s launch escape system to automatically trigger at this point, which will separate the crew spacecraft from the Falcon and propel it away from the rocket very quickly in order to get it to a safe distance to protect any future passengers. After around five minutes past launch, the Dragon will deploy its parachute system, and then at around 10 minutes after it should splash down in the Atlantic Ocean between 3 and 3.5 km (roughly 2 miles) from shore.

After that, crews will recover the Dragon capsule from the ocean, and return it to Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX will study the spacecraft, including human-sized dummies acting as passengers and sensors within to monitor what happened in the cabin during the test. They’ll use this to ideally show that the abort process works as designed and will protect astronauts on board the spacecraft in case of any emergency that results in an early mission termination.

In addition to the in-flight abort system, SpaceX and NASA are also using this mission to prepare for crewed flight in a number of other ways. Today, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will crew the first piloted mission hopefully later this year, ran through a dry run of what they would experience in a live mission. They donned space suits and walked the transom that connects the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 to its launchpad support structure, as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted on Twitter.

The test will not involve any attempt to recover the rocket, as mentioned, and SpaceX Crew Mission Management Director Benji Reed said during a press conference today that they do anticipate some kind of “ignition” event with the Falcon 9’s second stage, which could possibly be large enough to be seen from the ground, he said. SpaceX crews will be on standby to recover as much as possible from the rocket wreckage, which will be useful to study, and they’ll also be on hand to minimize any potential environmental impact from the test.

This test was originally scheduled for roughly six months ago, but SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule intended for the mission was destroyed during an unexpected incident while test firing its engines. SpaceX and NASA investigated that explosion, and are now confident that they understand the cause of that incident, and have taken steps to ensure that a similar problem doesn’t happen again. The Crew Dragon being used now for Saturday’s test was originally intended to be the one used for actually flying astronauts, and another capsule is currently in development to serve that purpose.

SpaceX’s launch window for this test opens at 8 AM ET tomorrow, but spans four hours, and Reed said it could actually extend longer tomorrow if need be. NASA Commercial Crew program manager Kathy Leuders explained today that it’s crucial that not only launch conditions, but also recovery conditions, are optimal for the purposes of this test, so both will play a factor in when exactly they launch. Unlike with launches actually designed to reach a specific orbit, timing doesn’t have to be quite as on the nose, so there’s more flexibility in terms of making the decision to proceed or stand down. SpaceX has backup opportunities on both Sunday and Monday should they be required.

We’ll have a live stream and live coverage of the test starting tomorrow morning, so check back early Saturday. The stream will kick off around 15 minutes prior to the scheduled opening of the launch window, so at around 7:45 AM ET.

Source: TechCrunch