Featured Image Source: NASA / 2019
SpaceX reignited the pride the United States felt when NASA Astronauts launched from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley launched aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30th; A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center propelling them into orbit – marking the beginning of a new era in American human spaceflight. The mission, referred to as Demo-2, is a demonstration flight designed to test out the Dragon’s functions and capabilities in order to certify it as a human safe spacecraft for operational missions. The astronauts are scheduled to complete the Demo-2 mission on August 2nd.
Today, July 24, NASA released details about the astronauts’ return. When the veteran astronauts return from the orbiting laboratory, Dragon will cross Earth’s fiery atmosphere with Behnken and Hurley aboard, to conduct a parachute-assisted landing at sea. “Crew Dragon’s return home will start with undocking from the International Space Station. At the time of undock, Dragon Endeavour and its trunk weigh approximately 27,600 pounds.” The agency plans to undock the spacecraft from the station’s Harmony module at around 7:34 p.m. EDT. on Saturday, August 1st, to initiate their return voyage. “Return time for Behnken and Hurley will vary depending on the undock and splashdown opportunities chosen, with the primary opportunity taking between six and 30 hours,” NASA stated.
“There will be two very small engine burns immediately after hooks holding Crew Dragon in place retract to actually separate the spacecraft from the station. Once flying free, Dragon Endeavour will autonomously execute four departure burns to move the spaceship away from the space station and begin the flight home,” the agency detailed in a press release, “Several hours later, one departure phasing burn, lasting about six minutes, puts Crew Dragon on the proper orbital path to line it up with the splashdown zone.”
“Shortly before the final deorbit burn, Crew Dragon will separate from its trunk, which will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft then executes the deorbit burn, which commits Crew Dragon to return and places it on an orbit with the proper trajectory for splashdown.” Their splashdown is scheduled for 2:42 p.m. EDT. on Sunday, August 2nd. “NASA and SpaceX are capable of supporting seven splashdown sites off the coast of Florida for the return of Crew Dragon. The seven potential splashdown sites for Crew Dragon are off the coasts of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona, and Jacksonville.” The agency also said the multiple splashdown locations were selected in case of unfavorable weather in a particular landing zone. “Teams also prioritize locations which require the shortest amount of time between undocking and splashdown based on orbital mechanics, and splashdown opportunities that occur in daylight hours,” the agency added.
Start the countdown! 🗓️— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) July 23, 2020
Only 10 days remain until @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug are scheduled to make the first crewed splashdown in 45 years. 👨🚀👨🚀 Listen as Hurley shares his full confidence in their safe return. https://t.co/lbinRXzHrE pic.twitter.com/u77BiV24kC
When Crew Dragon crosses Earth’s atmosphere with Astronauts Behnken and Hurley aboard it will be traveling at orbital velocity moving at approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Then, as it reenters the atmosphere it will experience a maximum temperature of approximately 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the first time a SpaceX spacecraft will return humans from space. “The re-entry creates a communications blackout between the spacecraft and Earth that is expected to last approximately six minutes,” the agency shared.
The spacecraft features a set of parachutes that will be used to soft land in the ocean. “Two drogue parachutes will deploy at about 18,000 feet in altitude while Crew Dragon is moving approximately 350 miles per hour. Four main parachutes will deploy at about 6,000 feet in altitude while Crew Dragon is moving approximately 119 miles per hour.”
SpaceX recovery teams will be waiting near one of the seven lading zones to rescue the astronauts as soon as possible upon landing in the ocean. The company has equipped two recovery ships called ‘Go Searcher’ and ‘Go Navigator’ these ships feature a helicopter landing pad and a medical room for first responders to assist the astronauts’ potential needs upon returning from space. The ships will wait in two separate locations between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. “On either ship will be more than 40 personnel from SpaceX and NASA, made up of spacecraft engineers, trained water recovery experts, medical professionals, the ship’s crew, NASA cargo experts, and others to assist in the recovery,” the agency says. “The main recovery vessel can move in and begin to hoist the Crew Dragon capsule onto the main deck. Once the capsule is on the recovery vessel, it is moved to a stable location for the hatch to be opened for waiting medical professionals to conduct initial checks and assist Behnken and Hurley out of Dragon Endeavour.”
The astronaut and spacecraft recovery operation is expected to take 45 to 60 minutes. SpaceX teams will get Behnken and Hurley out of the spacecraft and taken to the ship’s medical room to be checked by a medical team. Then, they will be transported to shore by a helicopter.
NASA will live-stream the event on August 1st at 9:10 a.m. Eastern Time, video below.
WATCH IT LIVE!