Featured Image Source: SpaceX
NASA's Commercial Crew Program has been working in coordination with several American aerospace companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems. The goal is to safely launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil.
NASA selected SpaceX, their Crew Dragon spacecraft has been in development under a $2.6 billion contract to take astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX is preparing to conduct their first manned mission aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission is called Demo-2, will consist of launching Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket with veteran NASA Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard on a journey to and from the Space Station, flight could take place sometime around May 7 this year.
SpaceX's Demo-2 mission will be a huge deal, because the United States has not launched astronauts aboard American-made spacecraft since 2011, when the space shuttle program ended. NASA has been launching crewed missions aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for nearly a decade. So, SpaceX will ignite an exciting era in American spaceflight!
NASA astronauts have been working alongside SpaceX over the course of years, more frequently during the previous months to prepare for their upcoming space voyages. SpaceX has provided training equipment that include important simulation hardware that will familiarize astronauts with the Dragon spacecraft's software and features. Even though advanced technology has provided automation in spacecraft, astronauts need to be prepared to pilot the craft manually, in case of any kind of technological failure or spacecraft malfunction. In fact, the craft's last major test actually involved conducting an uncrewed mission that simulated a dangerous scenario. The In-Flight Abort mission, tested Crew Dragon's launch escape system by intentionally shutting down the Falcon's engines to automatically trigger Dragon's ignition of eight SuperDraco engines in order to escape from danger -the Falcon 9 aerodynamically exploded mid-air. That day, SpaceX successfully demonstrated their craft's autonomous technology is capable of saving astronauts lives in the unlikely event of an explosion or rocket malfunction. The company also demonstrated the craft is capable of docking autonomously to the space station's robotic arm during an uncrewed Demo-1 mission that took place last year.
This week, a new Crew Dragon craft that will be utilized during SpaceX's first manned mission underwent electromagnetic interference testing (EMI) inside a chamber at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California (video below). EMI is a vital process to make sure a spacecraft's electrical systems will work properly in order certify the spacecraft is ready for flight. Today, SpaceX announced Dragon arrived to Florida today, where it will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In the coming weeks, the spacecraft will undergo preparations and final testing in a SpaceX facility nearby the Air Force Station before its first crewed flight to the space station.