After a 64-day test flight to the International Space Station with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, SpaceX’s first man-rated Crew Dragon spacecraft returned to Cape Canaveral for testing, refurbished and refurbished before flying to the station again with four aircraft — the crew next spring.
The crew – named “Endeavor” by Hurley and Behnken – arrived at Canaveral Harbor on 7 August aboard the recovery ship “Go Navigator” of SpaceX after sailed from the Gulf of Mexico, where the Dragon spaceship crashed under the umbrella on 2 August south of Pensacola, Florida.
The sensational game put an end to a successful demonstration flight to the International Space Station. Test flight, designated Demo-2, was the first mission of Dragon Crew to have astronauts on board. NASA plans to review data from the Demo-2 mission before officially certifying Crew Dragon for regular crew rotation flights to the space station starting later this year.
SpaceX and NASA staff aboard the recovery ship assisted Hurley and Behnken out of the spacecraft after it was hoisted on board. While the astronauts returned to Houston by air, the SpaceX’s recovery ship returned to Port Canaveral on Florida’s east coast, where engineers and technicians wait to transfer the Crew spacecraft. Dragon arrives at the handling facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
SpaceX has built a new Crew Dragon spacecraft for the company’s first crew rotation flight to the space station this fall. That mission, known as the Crew-1, will carry NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi on a mission that spans about six months to the station.
The second regular Crew Dragon flight will kick off in March. Earlier this year, SpaceX and NASA agreed to re-fly Crew Dragon from the Demo-2 test flight on the Crew-2 mission the following year.
SpaceX is under contract to perform six of these “post-certification missions” for NASA through the mid-2020s. NASA has a similar contract with Boeing for six crew rotation flights on the crew cabin. Starliner, has yet to launch a test flight with the astronauts.
SpaceX will refurbish the Crew Dragon spacecraft in a facility known as Area 59 at Cape Canaveral Air Station. Once used to get ready to launch Air Force GPS satellites, the Area 59 site is now under SpaceX’s management for the Crew Dragon program.
While SpaceX’s previous space station cargo missions using the previous Dragon design ended up spilling in the Pacific off California, managers moved flights back. Crew Dragon’s to locations in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast, near its refurbished facility at Cape Canaveral. The Demo-2 mission crashed into the Gulf of Mexico over weather concerns in the Atlantic from Hurricane Isaias.
“Capsules are designed for 5 to 10 tasks,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief executive officer of SpaceX. “We’ll have to see how things are going after we check the capsule when it gets back in port and back to Cape to our facility there, but based on telemetry and real estate. Any indication we’ve had so far, the car looks like it’s in really good condition. “
Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said SpaceX’s proposal to reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft “seems like it’s a sensible thing to do.”
“I think part of the question is how long does it take to refurbish the car,” Stich said. “It takes about four months or so. We have a lot of profit to get flight in the spring time frame for Crew-2. The car… when it returns to Area 59 in Cape, will begin maintenance. “
Stich said NASA will follow SpaceX’s maintenance process, “just to make sure nothing is not allowed”.
SpaceX originally proposed to reuse the Crew Dragon spacecraft in astronaut missions when NASA chose the company to develop and fly its crew cabin in 2014. At the time, SpaceX planned to bring in Crew Dragons landed with thrust to the shore, not into the sea.
SpaceX then adopted the idea, and the company and NASA agreed to fly the new Crew Dragon vehicles on space-travel missions. But SpaceX already has experience refurbishing Dragon cargo capsules after falling into salt water, and NASA said in June it agreed to let the astronauts fly aboard the reused Crew Dragon spacecraft. Falcon 9 used and rocket boosters previously flew.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency’s agreement to have astronauts fly on reusable capsules is in line with NASA’s strategy.
“Our desire as an agency is sustainability, and that means reusability,” Bridenstine said.
The SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral will remove the outer panels from the Crew Dragon spacecraft and begin testing to evaluate how the spacecraft passed its 64-day space mission, according to Benji Reed, managing director SpaceX’s crew mission manager.
“We wanted to make sure we dig deep and understand everything that’s going on with this car, make sure we’re really ready to go and then do some aspect of the refurbishment, ”Reed said. “There are some things that we will replace, some things that are standard replacements, some things that we want to upgrade based on lessons learned or planned at work.”
SpaceX will still need to build a new trunk for each Crew Dragon mission. The trunk is a non-pressure module attached to the back of the Crew Dragon capsule, providing electrical power with solar arrays and radiators to maintain stable temperatures inside the spacecraft.
The stalk is removed before re-entry and ignites in the atmosphere.
“We have to build a new body for each flight,” Reed said. “For this flight, we will upgrade the solar panels.”
If not, Reed said the Crew Dragon spacecraft would be “almost completely reused,” apart from a few things that would be upgraded or replaced.
SpaceX says the reuse of the spacecraft – like missile restoration and reuse – is not only economical, but also improves reliability.
“You learn a lot from a flying vehicle, and you also have to make it better,” Reed said. “You have to build it stronger for a car that you know you need to use over and over again.”
SpaceX will also fly a variant of the Crew Dragon spaceship for the space station resupply missions. The crew and cargo version is collectively known as the Dragon 2 design, built on the first-generation Dragon 1 cargo spaceship that SpaceX retired earlier this year.
“We are building a fleet of Dragon 2s, but the cargo version and the crew version,” said Shotwell. “We wanted to wait and see how many of them we had to build before we said we had finished building the fleet. We’d like to see what this car looks like after we get a chance to test it and the like, but we anticipate fleet building. “
NASA announced the astronaut mission for the Crew-2 mission last month.
Veteran astronaut Shane Kimbrough will lead the Crew-2 mission. He logged 189 days in orbit during the previous two missions to the International Space Station, first aboard a NASA space shuttle, and then a six-month expedition in 2016 and 2017, in which he launched and landed aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz.
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, a veteran of the nearly 13-day space shuttle flight in 2009, will be the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. McArthur is married to Bob Behnken, who just completed his flight on the same Crew Dragon spaceship.
“Megan is first and foremost an astronaut when it comes to our point of view,” said Shotwell.
“We’ll make sure that car is good or better than the one Bob flew… What we did for Bob, I think we can do an even better job for Megan and I hope She is really excited to fly on this particular capsule car. I was really delighted to be appointed by her as a pilot for the Crew-2 mission. “
“It’s definitely her turn to focus on the realization of her mission, while I take care of our family lives,” said Behnken last week.
Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency will accompany Kimbrough and McArthur on the Crew-2 mission. Hoshide and Pesquet are experienced space explorers with long-term space station expeditions for their merits.
The Crew-2 astronauts will become part of the crew of the space station during their scheduled six-month mission. The remaining three crew members will launch aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, bringing the total number of crew on the station to seven.
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