Image Source: SpaceX
The United States has not launched manned missions to space from American soil since NASA's shuttle was grounded in 2011 -that's almost a decade ago! NASA has been highly dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) since then. That could change soon. In 2020, SpaceX aims to launch astronauts from the U.S aboard their Dragon spacecraft for the first time. Crew Dragon spacecraft development has been funded under a contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, shared a new simulation video (shown above) of what will happen during their first manned mission to the space station that is scheduled for next year. The video shows two astronauts wearing SpaceX-made spacesuits walking down an awesome access arm —the hallway like bridge that astronauts will use to walk aboard the craft, at Launch Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket to ferry astronauts to the space station. NASA astronauts selected to preform this mission next year are Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
Dragon is capable of carrying up to 7 astronauts, it's interior features white and black color schemes. Above the seats, there is a control panel consisting of 3 screens with touch screen display. The craft also has a restroom section with a privacy curtain. It has a cargo area that can carry up to 7,291 lb of payload to the orbiting laboratory.
Ahead of our in-flight abort test for @Commercial_Crew—which will demonstrate Crew Dragon's ability to safely carry astronauts away from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency—our team has completed over 700 tests of the spacecraft's SuperDraco engines pic.twitter.com/nswMPCK3F9— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019
On the outside Dragon has 4 mounted pods, inside each there is 1 Draco thruster that can be used to control orientation and do orbital maneuvers in space. Inside each pod there are also pairs of SuperDraco engines. These 8 SuperDraco engines can be used to land the craft or during an abort emergency situation to propel away from danger. Each engine is capable of producing 71 kilonewtons of thrust.
In March this year, during their first unmanned demonstration mission, Demo-1, SpaceX successfully launched the Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit. It became the first spacecraft in history to dock autonomously to the ISS. SpaceX demonstrated their technology is reliable to carry humans on board that day. Crafts in use today use space station's Canadarm2 robotic arm, which is a non-autonomous mean to attach spacecraft to the ISS. SpaceX's autonomous feature can enable docking to be much more precise. Though, there is also an option on their computers, inside the craft's control panel station, that enables a pilot to dock Dragon by using manual controls. Dragon has 4 integrated parachutes that will be deployed upon re-entry from space, in order to soft-land in the ocean.
This year, SpaceX teams have been conducting several safety tests on both the parachutes and SuperDraco engines to ensure the craft can be safe under a variety of situations. They have finally arrived to the final phase of Crew Dragon testing, that involves conducting an In-Flight Abort (IFA) test, scheduled for January 11, 2020.
During this IFA test, SpaceX will simulate a launch emergency without a crew to demonstrate how the Crew Dragon spacecraft's launch escape system works. Seconds later after lift off, the Dragon spacecraft is expected to fire it's integrated SuperDraco abort engines to pull away from the Falcon 9 rocket while in-flight. Next month's IFA test will be a major deciding factor on how soon we will see the first manned mission take place in 2020. NASA officials said in a statement: "As part of the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon's capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. The demonstration also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX's crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station."
New technology development schedules tend to exhibit a version of Zeno’s Paradox — at any given point, you’re halfway there— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
If everything goes smoothly during testing, SpaceX will have the craft ready by February. Then after completing all safety reviews they could earn approval from NASA to launch astronauts for the very FIRST time!
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.