Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is preparing to launch NASA astronauts for the first time aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The Crew Dragon spacecraft that will fly as soon as this spring with veteran NASA Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, was delivered to Cape Canaveral, Florida, from a SpaceX factory located in Hawthorne, California.
This week, Dragon underwent electromagnetic interference testing (EMI) inside a chamber at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, California. EMI is a vital process to make sure a spacecraft's electrical systems will work properly. Then, SpaceX shared a photo of the craft on Friday, showing ground teams wearing lab coats and hair nets moving the spacecraft at the facility in Florida’s Space Coast. “The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for its first crew launch from American soil has arrived at the launch site,” NASA said in a statement. “NASA and SpaceX are preparing for the company’s first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.”
Today, Sunday (February 16), SpaceX announced the Dragon spacecraft completed acoustic testing, another pre-flight test preparation to ensure the spacecraft was manufactured with optimal conditions to perform a manned flight. The Falcon 9 rocket that will carry Dragon is capable of producing more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level; Acoustic testing is important because the noise level and vibrations generated as a powerful rocket lifts-off a launch pad is not only lethal to humans, but it can also damage the spacecraft's systems.
Crew Dragon completes acoustic testing in Florida pic.twitter.com/SbvmEvZLeZ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 17, 2020
The Overall Sound Pressure Level (OASPL) can reach over 146 dB (decibels) of extreme vibrations atop of a rocket, where the fairing or spacecraft is attached. For perspective, 146dB is about 20 times louder than operating a jackhammer without ear protection. Sounds at 90-95 dB are where humans could start to experience hearing loss from sustained exposure, pain in the ear is experienced at around 125 decibels and louder. Besides having potential to harm humans hearing sense, this vibration amount has potential to cause structural issues that might affect the functionality of systems inside the spacecraft. So, before Dragon is launched to space, all systems need to be exposed to high intensity noise and vibrations in an acoustic chamber. That is how engineers can test and assess their response to see if the way they manufactured Dragon withstands high noise and vibration levels. Acoustic testing determines whether the crafts systems will remain safe/functional during flight. Dragon just passed another test towards carrying out the first crewed mission.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off sometime between April and June, NASA is looking at May 7th as a potential launch date, though the date is not set in stone yet. SpaceX is still doing paperwork and NASA astronauts are preparing. As soon as all hardware is thoroughly tested, Dragon will sit atop of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch from historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the same launch pad used during the Apollo 11 mission that took astronauts to the lunar surface. NASA Astronaut Hurley, a pilot on two space shuttle missions, will be commander on the upcoming Dragon test flight, known as the Demo-2 mission. And NASA Astronaut Behnken, who conducted two NASA shuttle flights, will be Dragon's pilot. Since NASA has been launching astronauts aboard Russian spacecraft for almost a decade, SpaceX's first crewed flight is expected to bring back the excitement of manned missions launched from American soil.
Watch a SpaceX animation of what is planned for their first crewed mission!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.