Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is undergoing final preparations to conduct its first crewed flight aboard the upgraded Crew Dragon spacecraft. The launch is expected to bring back the excitement America felt when astronauts launched aboard the Space Shuttle fleet almost a decade ago. The first crewed mission will be a demonstration flight, referred to as Demo-2, that will carry NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission is scheduled for May 27th, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will go up as not just demonstration pilots for Demo-2, but they would actually become crew on-board the International Space Station for a period of months to do work, and they would continue to operate on the ISS. And then when we’re ready with the next Crew Dragon, they’ll come home,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated. The craft will stay docked for about two or three months to the station, then they will return to Earth aboard the spacecraft. Dragon is equipped with parachutes; it will conduct a parachute-assisted splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral’s coast. It will be the first time SpaceX returns humans from space aboard its spacecraft. “We will do a full evaluation of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon, so we’ll be on Earth for about a month with the Demo-2 Crew Dragon just doing inspections and evaluations and making sure that it’s safe," Bridenstine said, "[...] Then when we make sure that it operated how we expected it to operate, we’ll be ready to launch right into crewed missions for normal operations." Demo-2 will certify Dragon as a human-grade craft, upon successful mission completion.
NASA aims to conduct the first operational mission, referred to as Crew-1, about a month after Dragon returns astronauts Behnken and Hurley to Earth. SpaceX is already preparing a Falcon 9 rocket for the first crewed operational mission to the space station. SpaceX announced today, April 24, “The team at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas completed a static fire test today of the Falcon 9 first stage that will launch Crew Dragon’s first operational mission (Crew-1) with 3 NASA astronauts and 1 Jaxa astronaut on board later this year.”
The team at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas completed a static fire test today of the Falcon 9 first stage that will launch Crew Dragon’s first operational mission (Crew-1) with 3 @NASA astronauts and 1 @jaxa_en astronaut on board later this year pic.twitter.com/iagTmZUXDu— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 24, 2020
The Falcon 9’s first stage, is the rocket booster that carries the payload to orbit. During Crew-1, it will carry Crew Dragon out of Earth’s atmosphere to orbit, then return to conduct a controlled vertical landing. The first-stage features nine Merlin 1D engines, which are powered by rocket-grade Kerosene and liquid oxygen in its combustion chamber. A static-fire test, is a routine pre-flight preparation that is conducted to ensure the rocket is working optimally ahead of flight. During the test in McGregor, the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D engines were ignited for a few seconds, while the rocket’s first-stage was grounded with hold-down clamps to keep it on the launch pad. At full throttle the Merlin engines produce over 1.7 million pounds of thrust! Engineers quickly shut down the engines to complete the test and go over data.
Falcon 9’s second stage engine at our Hawthorne headquarters before shipping to Texas – it is the 100th second stage engine SpaceX has built pic.twitter.com/oVR6KwCDK3— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 24, 2020
“The McGregor team also completed a static fire test earlier this week of Falcon 9’s second stage engine for the Crew-1 mission, which will propel Crew Dragon toward space station once the first stage separates and reorients to land back on Earth,” SpaceX wrote via Twitter. The company also shared a photograph of the second stage's Merlin vacuum engine (pictured above). “Falcon 9’s second stage engine at our Hawthorne headquarters before shipping to Texas – it is the 100th second stage engine SpaceX has built.”
The astronauts who will conduct Crew-1, the first operational mission aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft are: NASA Astronaut Victor Glover who will be the spacecraft's commander; NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins, joint spacecraft commander; NASA Astronaut Shannon Walker and JAXA Japanese Astronaut Soichi Noguchi will be mission specialists.
NASA has not launched astronauts from American soil since the Space Shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. SpaceX will return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. We are about to enter an exciting new era in spaceflight!