Featured Image Source: SpaceX
Today, July 29, NASA held a Return Flight Readiness Review conference to announce their assessment about astronauts’ return aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon. It will be the first time in 45 years that humans splashdown from space in the ocean. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30. After a two-month stay the brave pair will complete SpaceX’s first crewed mission on August 2nd. The mission referred to as Demo-2, is a demonstration flight meant to certify the Dragon spacecraft as a human-safe vehicle. During the press briefing, NASA Commercial Crew Manager Steve Stich said – “We really took out time to review the vehicle in orbit…its been on orbit for about 63 days, we talked pre-flight about having people 120 days, the systems on Dagon are doing very well, the spacecraft is very healthy. We went through all the systems…”
"The systems on Dragon are doing very well, the spacecraft is very healthy."— NASA (@NASA) July 29, 2020
Steve Stich, Program Manager of our @Commercial_Crew program, looks forward to the end of the #LaunchAmerica mission, as @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug prepare to undock from the @Space_Station: pic.twitter.com/NdigFmPDmg
The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the ISS orbiting laboratory on August 1st at around 7:34 a.m. Eastern Time (EDT), and is expected to cross Earth’s atmosphere to conduct a parachute-assisted splashdown at 2:42 p.m. EDT. on August 2nd, if weather conditions are favorable. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated:
“The NASA team and the SpaceX team, everybody remains ‘GO’ for return, and we cannot wait to get Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley back to Earth, but of course we have some weather pending…”
"The NASA team and the @SpaceX team remain 'go' for return and we cannot wait to get @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug back to Earth."— NASA (@NASA) July 29, 2020
Administrator @JimBridenstine is looking forward to the #LaunchAmerica crew returning from their mission on August 2, weather permitting: pic.twitter.com/i2ZxcnN0nX
NASA selected seven potential Dragon splashdown locations off the coasts of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona, or Jacksonville. Behnken and Hurley’s return voyage may take anywhere between 6 and 30 hours, depending on what splashdown zone is selected. During today’s press briefing, the agency stated it will select the landing location about two days before splashdown. It will be the first time a SpaceX spacecraft returns humans from space.
NASA also mentioned officials will confirm Dragon’s splashdown location at 6 hours and again at 2.5 hours before undocking. To ensure weather conditions are favorable for the astronauts’ safe return. If weather conditions are not favorable for a parachute-assisted landing, the crew will remain aboard Dragon cruising in space for 24 to 48 hours, until the weather improves. “Splashdown locations are selected using defined priorities, starting with selecting a station departure date and time with the maximum number of return opportunities in geographically diverse locations to protect for weather changes,” the agency stated. “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.”
Image: NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley
Recovery parameters will depend on factors such as wind speed and rain – “Winds speed cannot be greater than 15 feet per second or about 10 miles an hour,” Stich said, “This is to protect how the vehicle lands in the water and how the water will come up t surround the vehicle at touchdown. The next criteria will be waves…there is a certain amount of waves height and wave period that we have to have within limits…” he detailed during the conference, video below.
🍃 Wind speed— NASA (@NASA) July 29, 2020
🌊 Wave height
Steve Stich, @Commercial_Crew Program Manager, discusses possible weather constraints we are monitoring for as we prepare for the #LaunchAmerica crew to return to Earth on August 2: pic.twitter.com/XaaozeQgWd
Once Behnken and Hurley splashdown, SpaceX recovery ships will pick them up. Each of the two recovery ships feature a helicopter landing pad and medical rooms to aid the astronauts upon return. After a medical team checks the astronauts’ health, they will be brought to shore either by helicopter for six of the seven recovery areas, depending on which one is selected, or by recovery ship if the crew conducts the splashdown near Cape Canaveral.
Stich also shared that the next astronaut crew of four, Crew-1, will launch from American soil aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in September. He said Behnken and Hurley, alongside Russian cosmonauts at the space station, conducted a Crew Dragon ‘habitability test’ to assess how comfortable a crew of four can live in microgravity inside the spacecraft. – “We did a series of ‘life in the day in Dragon’ how would you prepare meals, different hygiene activities, how would you sleep in the seats, and try to assess that and try to learn from this vehicle, for the next vehicle…those tests went very well,” Stitch said.
"@AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug had the opportunity to live in Dragon for first part of the flight... We take the data from that habitability assessment and feed that back into Crew-1 to make that flight even better."— NASA (@NASA) July 29, 2020
Steve Stich on how #LaunchAmerica will influence Crew-1: pic.twitter.com/RpQ5RZxhtS