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Could a Dragon spacecraft fly humans to the Moon? It’s complicated – Ars Technica

Gray Dragon —

“Do you really want to get to the Moon by 2024 or not?”


Crew Dragon landing

Enlarge / Crew Dragon splashes down into the ocean on August 2.

Bill Inglalls/NASA

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a black-and-white spacecraft raced through the atmosphere, ionizing molecules, and creating a plasma inferno. Amidst this fireball, two astronauts sheltered within the small haven of Dragonship Endeavour, as its carbon-based heat shield crisped and flaked away.

After a few torrid minutes, Endeavour shed most of its orbital velocity. Falling into the lower atmosphere, its parachutes deployed in a careful sequence, and the spacecraft floated down from blue skies into blue seas. Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were safe. They were home. For the first time in 4.5 decades, astronauts returned from space and splashed down into the ocean, like the Apollo-era heroes who walked across the Moon.

The landing came as NASA, at the direction of Vice President Mike Pence, is working urgently to return humans to the Moon by 2024. This is a herculean task for the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, who is balancing politics, funding, and technical hurdles to push NASA and its contractors forward.

Immediately after the landing, Bridenstine renewed his pitch for this Artemis Moon program during a splashdown news conference. Wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with the Artemis logo, he said, “We have to make sure that another generation doesn’t miss this opportunity. Today was a great victory, but it was just a beginning. The Artemis Program is our sustainable return to the Moon.”

Then, Bridenstine added this comment: “If we do things right, we will get the strong bipartisan support that we need.” This was clearly a nod to funding needed to carry out Artemis. But what, exactly, does “do things right” mean, anyway? On the technical side, it means using space hardware that can get the job done. On the political side, it means making choices that satisfy those in Congress who pay the bills.

When it comes to spacecraft, rockets, and the Moon, these two things may not be the same.

This divide could not be more clear when Endeavour splashed down. The success of Crew Dragon, a relatively lightweight, modestly priced, and reusable spacecraft has led some aerospace engineers to suggest the space agency should scrap its plan to use larger, much more expensive vehicles—those championed by Congress for more than a decade—to perform the Moon landing.

  • Crew Dragon is brought on board the SpaceX recovery ship.


    NASA

  • Support teams arrive at the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft shortly after it landed.


    NASA

  • The spacecraft is hoisted onto the recovery ship.


    NASA

  • NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed.


    NASA

  • How was your ride home, Doug Hurley?


    NASA

  • Bob Behnken was in good spirits, too.


    NASA

  • NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken prepare to depart their helicopter at Naval Air Station Pensacola after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft.


    NASA

  • Crew Dragon nears splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.


    Bill Inglalls/NASA

  • An image of the parachutes falling into the water.


    NASA

After its successful landing in early August, Crew Dragon has proven itself, these advocates say. It’s been to space and back with humans inside. With some modifications, it could be beefed up to support longer-duration missions to carry astronauts to lunar orbit and safely back to Earth. Why wait on the more expensive government vehicles when commercial solutions are already at hand?

“Do we really want to go to the Moon, or don’t we?” asked Robert Zubrin, a US aerospace engineer who founded the Mars Society. “The question for Mike Pence is pretty simple: Do you really want to get to the Moon by 2024 or not? Because we have the tools to go.”

The current plan

Over the last 18 months, Bridenstine has crafted a plan that seeks to balance technical and political concerns in order to reach the Moon.

The administrator understands that commercial space, led by SpaceX, has stepped up and delivered for NASA. He has sought to include these new companies—which tend to work more quickly and for less guaranteed money than traditional aerospace firms such as Boeing—where possible in the Artemis Program. They’ve been allowed in the bidding for projects to build a lander to take humans from lunar orbit down to the Moon’s surface, as well as delivering cargo to the Moon.

Already, some in Congress have kvetched about this approach. Some House Democrats, including Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, have argued that commercial companies should not be allowed to build the Human Landing System. Rather, they say, NASA should design, own, and operate the lander. So far, Bridenstine has been able to push back against this.

But there is a red line he dare not cross. In the Senate, the influential chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, has said humans must launch to the Moon inside the Orion spacecraft, on top of a Space Launch System rocket. This may, generally, be considered the position of Congress. And if Bridenstine has any hope of winning Congressional funds for a lunar lander, he has to play by these rules.

Under the current plan, then, Bridenstine has shared contracts across a number of different contractors, both traditional and commercial space. “I think we’ve got a good balance,” he told Ars in an interview.

Politically, his strategy seems to be working, at least for the moment. While Artemis has not gotten all of the funding it needs, it is getting some. But what about technically? Is there any hope of making 2024?

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SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts describe thrilling return to Earth – CBS News

Plunging back to Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Sunday amounted to a high-speed thrill ride, astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken reported Tuesday. The fiery, flawlessly-controlled descent to splashdown went off without a hitch — a major step toward certifying the vehicle for operational flights.

“What a ride!” Behnken tweeted, sharing long-range tracking camera footage of the Crew Dragon’s dramatic descent.

Tracking footage of Crew Dragon’s descent, parachute deployments and splashdown pic.twitter.com/pzbm1iXCC6

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 4, 2020

The Crew Dragon splashed down south of Pensacola, Florida, amid dozens of boaters, some motoring close to the gently rocking capsule despite earlier Coast Guard warnings to stay clear. The spacecraft, with Hurley and Behnken still strapped in their seats, was hauled aboard a SpaceX recovery ship without incident.

It was the first water landing for astronauts or cosmonauts returning from orbit since the final Apollo capsule closed out a joint flight with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft 45 years ago.

Behnken and Hurley, veterans of two space shuttle flights each, said the ride down was possibly more exciting than either expected. Behnken provided a blow-by-blow description Tuesday during a virtual news conference at the Johnson Space Center.

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Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley answer phoned-in questions from reporters during a news conference two days after their historic return to Earth aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

NASA


“Once we descended a little bit into the atmosphere, Dragon really came alive. It started to fire thrusters and keep us pointed in the appropriate direction. The atmosphere starts to make noise. You can hear that rumble outside the vehicle,” he said.

“And as the vehicle tries to control (its orientation), you feel a little bit of that shimmy in your body, and our bodies were much better attuned to the environment (after two month in weightlessness) so we could feel those small rolls and pitches and yaws,” he added.

“As we descended through the atmosphere, the thrusters were firing almost continuously … But it doesn’t sound like a machine,” Behnken explained. “It sounds like an animal coming through the atmosphere with all the puffs that are happening from the thrusters and the atmospheric noise. It just continues to gain magnitude.”

When the capsule’s stabilizing drogue parachutes deployed, followed by four large main chutes inflating, it felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat,” Behnken said. “It was a pretty significant jolt.”

“If you’ve seen an old movie that happened to have some guys who’d been in a centrifuge, that’s what we felt like,” he said. “When the time came to splash down … we felt the splash and we saw it splash up over the windows. It was just a great relief.”

They did not say whether they felt any nausea before the gently bobbing spacecraft was recovered and pulled onto the recovery ship Go Navigator, something they mentioned before launch as a possibility.

Behnken and Hurley had nothing but praise for SpaceX and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, thanking SpaceX for the extensive training they received and for audio recordings and video from an unpiloted Crew Dragon test flight last year that let them know what to expect during the trip back to Earth.

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The Crew Dragon descending under parachutes Sunday, moments before splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico south of Pensacola, Florida.

NASA/Bill Ingalls


“When it performed as expected, and we could check off those events, we were really, really comfortable coming through the atmosphere, even though, you know, it felt like we were inside of an animal,” Behnken said.

Hurley and Behnken were launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 30. The spacecraft carried out an automated rendezvous to catch up with the International Space Station and, after the astronauts tested its manual control system, docked with the lab complex using the same forward port that once accommodated visiting space shuttles.

The Crew Dragon astronauts were welcomed aboard by Expedition 63 commander Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Over the next two months, Hurley and Behnken assisted Cassidy with a full slate of U.S. and partner agency research, logging 114 hours carrying out experiments that would not otherwise have gotten done with a single U.S. astronaut aboard.

Behnken also participated in four spacewalks with Cassidy to wrap up installation of replacement batteries in the station’s solar power system. Including six excursions during two previous shuttle missions, Behnken now ranks fourth on the list of most experienced spacewalkers, with 61 hours and 10 minutes spent outside the station.

Hurley, who piloted two shuttle missions, including the winged orbiter’s final flight to the space station in 2011, said he expected some surprises during the Crew Dragon’s reentry.

“I expected there to be some divergence and attitude control, because it’s a real tough problem for the ship as it gets into the thicker air to maintain perfect attitude and control,” he said. “And … the vehicle was rock solid.”

The Crew Dragon is the first American spacecraft to launch astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil since the space shuttle’s final flight in 2011. For the past nine years, NASA has relied on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. and partner agency astronauts to and from the station, paying more than $80 million per seat under recent contracts.

The Crew Dragon and, eventually, Boeing’s Starliner CST-100 capsules are intended to end that sole reliance on Russia while opening up low-Earth orbit to private-sector development.

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Robert Behnken, left, and spacecraft commander Douglas Hurley, greet recovery crews moments after the hatch of their Crew Dragon capsule was opened.

NASA/Bill Ingalls


SpaceX launched and recovered an unpiloted Crew Dragon capsule last year and carried out a dramatic in-flight abort, again unpiloted, earlier this year. That cleared the way for Hurley and Behnken to blast off on the program’s first piloted mission, a test flight known as Demo 2.

The spacecraft performed in near-flawless fashion throughout its first piloted mission and, if a detailed post-flight review confirms that, NASA managers hope to certify the spacecraft for operational crew rotation missions to and from the space station starting this fall.

That instant at splashdown when we knew we did it. Congratulations to @SpaceX and @NASA on an incredible mission! It’s great to have such an uplifting story at the intersection of innovation and humanity’s desire to do great things. #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/iUkzqyX6gU

— Christina H Koch (@Astro_Christina) August 4, 2020

“They do need to look at the data from our entry,” Behnken said. “They will do a very thorough review, both on the SpaceX side and the NASA side, to make sure that they’re comfortable. But from a crew perspective, I think that it’s definitely ready to go.”

That will be good news for Behnken’s wife, astronaut Megan McArthur. She’s one of four astronauts scheduled to blast off next year aboard the same Crew Dragon capsule that carried Behnken and Hurley back to Earth.

“My wife is assigned to a SpaceX mission, and we have a young son,” Behnken said. “So I’ll definitely be focused on making sure that her mission’s as successful as possible and supporting her just as she did for me over the last five years.”


SpaceX splashdown marks a milestone

03:29

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SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts pack for historic undocking and splashdown – CBS News

SpaceX astronauts cleared for return


SpaceX astronauts cleared for return

02:19

Crew Dragon astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken thanked their space station crewmates for a successful two-month visit and readied their SpaceX capsule for undocking Saturday, setting up a historic Gulf of Mexico splashdown Sunday afternoon.

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go,” Behnken tweeted.

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go… #LandAmerica pic.twitter.com/FvyzeA58sb

— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) August 1, 2020

It will be the first splashdown for U.S. astronauts in 45 years and the first entry, descent and landing of a piloted Crew Dragon spacecraft, one of the final steps before NASA can certify the SpaceX ferry ships for operational six-month flights to the space station.

“We’re about to embark on the the final portion of the journey,” Behnken said in a brief departure ceremony Saturday morning. “The hardest part was getting us launched. But the most important part is bringing us home.”

“I look forward to the test objectives of not only separating from the International Space Station smoothly, but then coming down to a nice splashdown off the Florida coast to come full circle with bringing that capability to launch astronauts again to the United States.”

With Hurricane Isaias threatening Florida’s East Coast, ruling out a splashdown off the coast from Jacksonville to Cape Canaveral, NASA and SpaceX managers met Saturday and tentatively cleared the crew for an on-time undocking Saturday and splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Sunday afternoon.

A final go/no-go weather review was expected shortly before undocking.

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Crew Dragon astronauts Bob Behnken, front left, and Doug Hurley, front right, show off an American flag they plan to return to Earth that was left aboard the space station during the final shuttle mission in 2011. Also visible: Tremor, the toy dinosaur, that was given to Hurley and Behnken by their sons to serve as a reminder of home and as a zero-gravity indicator. Looking on were Expedition 63 crewmates Ivan Vagner, back left, commander Chris Cassidy, center, and Anatoly Ivanishin, back right.

NASA


In the meantime, with favorable weather expected off Pensacola and a backup site near Panama City, Hurley and Behnken planned to undock from the space station’s forward port at 7:34 p.m., leaving Expedition 63 commander Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner behind.

After moving a safe distance away from the space station, Hurley and Behnken plan to monitor a series of computer-orchestrated thruster firings to fine-tune their orbit before going to bed around 11:40 p.m.

After a 7:40 a.m. Sunday wakeup call, the astronauts will work through a detailed pre-entry checklist before the Crew Dragon jettison’s its no-longer-needed trunk section around 1:45 p.m., exposing the capsule’s protective heat shield.

Then, starting around 1:50 p.m., the Crew Dragon’s forward thrusters are scheduled to fire for nearly 10 minutes, slowing the craft by about 105 mph, just enough to drop the far side of its orbit deep into the atmosphere.

A half-hour later, approaching the Gulf of Mexico from the southwest, the Crew Dragon is expected to plunge back into the discernible atmosphere, quickly slowing down as the heat shield endures temperatures higher than 3,000 degrees. Small drogue parachutes will then stabilize the capsule before four main parachutes unfurl at an altitude of about 6,000 feet.

Splashdown near Pensacola is expected around 2:41 p.m.

The SpaceX recovery ship Go Navigator will be stationed nearby carrying medical personnel, support crews and initial responders with “fast boats” who have trained to reach the spacecraft within minutes.

Within the hour, they are expected to stabilize and “safe” the capsule, haul it on board the Go Navigator, open the side hatch and help Hurley and Behnken out as they begin re-adjusting to gravity after two months in space.

Both astronauts said they expect a bit of nausea and possibly vomiting as they bob about in the capsule awaiting recovery. During an earlier interview aboard the station, Hurley joked, “there’s a pretty good likelihood that we may see breakfast twice on that particular day.”

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The Crew Dragon spacecraft, docked to the space station’s forward port and extending to the far right in this image, is wrapping up a two-month-long test flight with a planned undocking Saturday night and splashdown Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA


In any case, after initial medical checks aboard the the recovery ship, the astronauts will be flown by helicopter to a nearby airport where a NASA jet will be waiting to fly them back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for debriefing and reunions with family members.

Since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. and partner agency astronauts to and from the station at some $80 million per seat.

The Crew Dragon and, eventually, Boeing’s Starliner CST-100 capsules are intended to end that sole reliance on Russia while opening up low-Earth orbit to private-sector development.

SpaceX launched and recovered an unpiloted Crew Dragon capsule last year and carried out a dramatic in-flight abort, again unpiloted, earlier this year. That cleared the way for Hurley and Behnken to blast off on the program’s first piloted mission, a test flight known as Demo 2, on May 30.

“The DM-2 test flight is in some ways just two thirds complete,” Hurley said Saturday. “We did the ascent, the rendezvous and the docking, we completed our docked objectives and now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase.”

During the departure ceremony, Cassidy presented Hurley and Behnken with an American flag the crew of the final shuttle mission left aboard the lab complex in 2011. Hurley was the pilot of shuttle Atlantis for that final flight and “capturing the flag” marked a special moment.

The flag first flew in space aboard Columbia during the first shuttle mission in 1981 and if all goes well, it will be aboard NASA’s Orion capsule during a flight to the moon in the next few years.

“This flag has spent some time up here, on the order of nine years since we dropped it off on STS-135,” Hurley said. “So very proud to return this flag home and see what’s next for it on its journey to the moon.”

Also coming home is “Tremor,” the toy dinosaur that served as an ever-present zero-gravity indicator during the crew’s stay aboard the station. It was given to them by their sons, six-year-old Theo Behnken and 10-year-old Jack Hurley.

“My son and Doug’s son are really excited, not only to get their fathers back, but to get our apatosaurus, our zero-G indicator that they nominated to go with us on this historic mission,” Behnken said. “For Jack and Theo: Tremor, the apatosaurus, is headed home soon and he’ll be with your dads.”

Both men are married to astronauts. Hurley’s wife, Karen Nyberg, is retired from the astronaut corps, but Behnken’s wife, Megan McArthur, is in training to fly to the space station next year aboard the same Crew Dragon bringing her husband home Sunday.

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SpaceX Dragon 2 Won’t Be Back From ISS Until After July Suggests FCC Filing – Wccftech

SpaceX Dragon 2

SpaceX Crew Dragon 2 approaches the International Space Station’s (ISS) Harmony module in March, 2019 as part of the vehicle’s testing. (Image Credit: NASA)

At the close of last month, astronautic launch services provider and equipment manufacturing Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) successfully launched astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch was heralded by industry watchers and agency officials alike as the first step in paving the way for the private sector in launching human payloads to low earth orbit (LEO) since it was the first time that a project funded partially via non-government entities successfully let humans dock with the ISS.

The mission was the second demonstration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon 2 vehicle and was accurately dubbed as the Demo2 (DM-2) mission. Following the Dragon 2 spacecraft’s successful docking with the ISS and NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken’s successful entry in the station, NASA also amended the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract to allow SpaceX to reuse both the Falcon 9 booster and the Dragon 2 launch vehicle (not the one part of the DM-2 mission) for future crewed missions.

This change, which is highly controversial in is own right was followed yesterday by SpaceX officially requesting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant it a special temporary authority for using radio and other facilities for the DM-2 Crew Dragon 2 spacecraft’s post-splashdown emergency location beacon.

SpaceX Files Request With FCC Requesting Approval To Use Demo2 Dragon Spacecraft’s Emergency Location Beacon

The request (file number: 0884-EX-ST-2020) requests the regulatory body to grant the company permission to locate the Crew Dragon 2 vehicle after it splashes down upon return from the ISS. This will be achieved through the Dragon 2’s emergency locator beacon manufactured by the European positioning systems equipment maker Orolia S.A.S headquartered in France, and by the looks of it, the unit that is present might be custom-designed by SpaceX and Orolia. This is due to the fact that the beacon has been listed as “Experimental” in the special temporary authority filed yesterday.

More importantly, the request document also provides insight into SpaceX and NASA’s plans for the DM-2 mission’s time duration. The Dragon 2 vehicle is capable of operating in space for a little under four months due to its solar panels being unable to withstand the harsh environments of space for a longer duration.

SpaceX Dragon 2 solar panels

View of the SpaceX Dragon 2 vehicle in the company’s processing hangar at the Launchpad 39A in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida in 2018. The Crew Dragon 2 vehicle’s solar panel arrangement is different from the cargo Dragon’s panel arrangement, with the latter’s ‘winged’ deployment having a higher risk of failure unacceptable for crewed missions. (Image Credit: SpaceX)

In SpaceX’s STA request, the requested period of operation for the Dragon 2’s emergency beacon commences from the close of July (7/31), and it ends in January 2021. So naturally, this leads us to conclude that the mission with the two NASA astronauts is unlikely to return before the end of July. Prior to yesterday’s filing, SpaceX has not requested the FCC for an STA to operate the Dragon 2 vehicle’s emergency beacon for the DM-2 mission, but the filing is not the first time that a Dragon 2 vehicle has been the subject of one.

Previous requests have revealed SpaceX’s plans for using five potential recovery antenna locations for the Dragon 2 after it departs from the ISS and splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean. These antennas will be placed on five separate ships, with each ship named after an American city. The FCC is yet to approve this request, which was filed last month, and given that the request for special temporary authority for the Dragon 2 vehicle was filed on Friday, it’s unlikely to be granted soon either.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft put through its paces at orbital space station – Teslarati

SpaceX’s first human-proven Crew Dragon spacecraft is being put through its paces in orbit by NASA and even Roscosmos astronauts, according to senior agency leader.

Promoted to lead NASA’s Human Spaceflight Office (HEOMD) days ago, former Commercial Crew Program (CCP) manager Kathy Lueders primarily spoke about her new job – guiding the Artemis Moon landing program – but did manage to answer some questions about her former post. Successfully launched on May 30th, SpaceX’s inaugural Crew Dragon astronaut mission also marked NASA’s first domestic astronaut launch since June 2011, an achievement that unsurprisingly helped catapult Lueders up the ranks just a few weeks later.

Thus far, SpaceX’s first crewed launch is arguably the crowning achievement of both the company and the commercial spaceflight industry it’s largely come to represent. The mission isn’t over yet, however, and International Space Station (ISS) astronauts are reportedly hard at work as they continue to test the historic Crew Dragon spacecraft and push it to a whole new genre of limits.

Lueders: The Crew Dragon has been doing great. Every week it wakes up and we do checkouts, and then it goes back into sleep mode. The crew on orbit have also been putting it through its paces. About to do a demonstration with four crew members in the vehicle at once.

— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) June 18, 2020

Crew Dragon C206 and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley completed a flawless ISS arrival on May 31st. (SpaceX)

According to Lueders and backed up by a different NASA executive about a week prior, “Crew Dragon has been doing great” over the ~20 days it’s spent docked to the ISS. NASA and its orbiting astronauts have already done a significant amount of work to verify that the spacecraft is in good health and capable of serving as a lifeboat – at a moment’s notice – for the space station’s crew. In the coming weeks, it’s likely that Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Chris Cassidy, and (maybe) a Russian cosmonaut will explicitly rehearse such an emergency, testing Crew Dragon’s ability to depart the ISS in a matter of minutes.

As part of that work, Lueders says NASA astronauts are waking Dragon up and performing checkouts weekly before returning the spacecraft to a mysterious “sleep mode”. In the coming weeks, NASA will further test Crew Dragon by boarding four of the space station’s five current astronauts, including one of two Russian cosmonauts.

Kathy Lueders (new head of NASA’s human spaceflight): Right now we are looking at Demo-2 coming back in the early August timeline.

— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) June 18, 2020

Crew Dragon already has a flawless uncrewed orbital launch, reentry, and landing under its belt – the latter phase pictured here in March 2019. (NASA)

SpaceX hasn’t crossed the finish line just yet, though. Lueders also shed additional light on that critical section of Crew Dragon’s astronaut launch debut, confirming that NASA still plans to have the spacecraft return to Earth with Behnken and Hurley in early August. Two opposing goals will continue to tug at that date. On one hand, having both astronauts on the ISS as long as possible helps NASA maximize the efficient use and maintenance of the ultra-expensive orbital laboratory. However, the sooner Crew Dragon is able to complete its first crewed reentry, splashdown, and recovery; the sooner SpaceX and NASA and can fully debrief from the mission, analyze the recovered hardware, and complete paperwork for SpaceX’s next astronaut launch.

Known as Crew-1, SpaceX will send three NASA astronauts and one JAXA (Japanese) astronaut to the ISS for a full six months (~180 days), beginning what could be years of operational Crew Dragon astronaut ferry missions. Crew-1 is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) August 30th but that date is heavily contingent upon post-Demo-2 reviews and is mainly a placeholder. For now, Crew Dragon C206 is in good health and thus has at least another month and a half to look forward to at the International Space Station.

Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.

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Crew Dragon likely to support extended space station stay – SpaceNews

by

Crew Dragon
The Demo-2 Crew Dragon spacecraft approaching the ISS May 31. NASA says the spacecraft is doing “very well” in orbit, giving NASA confidence the mission can last until August. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is performing well enough on orbit to give NASA confidence that the mission can last until August, an agency official said June 9.

Ken Bowersox, the acting associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, told an online meeting of two National Academies committees that NASA had been monitoring the health of the Crew Dragon spacecraft since its launch May 30 on the Demo-2 mission, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station.

NASA, he noted, had not set a length for the mission, saying they wanted to see how the Dragon performed in space. “The Dragon is doing very well, so we think it’s reasonable for the crew to stay up there a month or two,” he told members of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board.

NASA said before the launch of Demo-2 that the spacecraft was rated to spend up to 119 days in orbit, with the performance of its solar arrays the limiting factor. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at one pre-launch briefing that NASA was targeting Aug. 30 for the launch of the first fully operational Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1, and thus would plan to bring the Demo-2 spacecraft back about a month before that launch to provide enough time to review the spacecraft and formally certify Crew Dragon for use on routine crew rotation missions.

The agency’s original plan for Demo-2 was for it to be a short test flight, lasting roughly two weeks, but NASA chose to extend it to address a shortfall in crew time on the station. Only three people, including just one NASA astronaut, Chris Cassidy, were on the ISS at the time Demo-2 launched.

An extended stay would, among other things, allow Behnken and Cassidy, both experienced spacewalkers, to carry out several spacewalks to replace batteries in the station’s power system. Those spacewalks, Bowersox said, would be completed by late July. “About two months from now, we’ll start thinking about bringing Doug and Bob home.”

One issue is restrictions on acceptable winds for landing for the Demo-2 spacecraft, which he said is stricter than the limitations for later Crew Dragon spacecraft. “We’ll need to provide extra lead time for the weather possibilities, but I think it will all work out in August,” he said. “August is often a light wind month in the parts of the Gulf [of Mexico] and the east coast of Florida that we’re looking at landing, so I think we’ll be able to find a good opportunity.”

Bridenstine also mentioned weather as one issue determining when to bring Behnken and Hurley home on the Demo-2 Crew Dragon. “Remember, this is a test flight, and as such, if we have a good window to come home and they’re not necessary on the International Space Station, we will be taking it,” he said at a May 26 briefing.

Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner are intended to restore human orbital spaceflight capability for the United States after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011. Those vehicles also promised to offer lower costs to both save NASA money and to attract other customers.

Bowersox, though, said the cost savings that both commercial crew and cargo vehicles provide compared to the shuttle, on a per-seat or per-kilogram basis, aren’t as big as expected. “It’s kind of surprising. We did lower the costs, but we didn’t lower it as much as we were hoping,” he said. “People were hoping for a factor of 10 reduction in costs, right? And we’re just not there. I’d say it’s probably more like 20% to 40%.”

However, he said the commercial vehicles, because they are smaller than the shuttle, are significantly less expensive to operate on a per-flight basis. “If you have more commercial participation, costs can come down more,” he said. “I think there’s tremendous promise. I think we’re on a good path.”

He added that it’s possible that companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX with its next-generation Starship launch system under development might yet achieve that factor of 10 reduction in costs. “I wouldn’t bet against Elon.”


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SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule prepares to dock at International Space Station – watch live – Guardian News

SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule prepares to dock at International Space Station – watch live – Guardian News
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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft faces its biggest test – UPI News

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SpaceX Crew Dragon NASA astronaut launch debut will carry a surprise payload – Teslarati

SpaceX has plans to include a surprise payload aboard Crew Dragon’s inaugural NASA astronaut launch, scheduled to lift off as soon as May 27th.

Per a NASA update published on May 13th, SpaceX and the space agency remain on track for what will arguably be the company’s single most important mission since its founding in 2002. Over the last 6-9 years, depending on how one counts, SpaceX and NASA have worked relentlessly to develop the next-generation Crew Dragon spacecraft, a dramatically different variant of the extensively flown Cargo Dragon (Dragon 1).

Although the spacecraft’s next launch will be both its and SpaceX’s first crewed launch ever, Crew Dragon has already completed two successful abort tests in 2015 and 2020, as well as a flawless orbital launch debut in March 2019. Just shy of 16 months and no shortage of technical hurdles since that uncrewed orbital debut, the third Crew Dragon spacecraft completed by SpaceX (capsule C206) and a brand new Falcon 9 rocket are ready to make history. Now, on top of the many historic milestones attached to Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be joined by a mosaic of Earth created by tens or even hundreds of thousands of students – both young and old – from around the world.

SpaceX plans to include a surprise payload on its first astronaut launch to celebrate the academic class of 2020. (SpaceX)

As of May 15th, per NASA’s latest blog post updates, SpaceX’s plethora of Crew Dragon Demo-2 hardware appears to be just shy of 100% ready for flight, at least from a technical perspective. As of May 12th, NASA and SpaceX officially cleared Crew Dragon’s interior and both astronauts’ space suits for flight, effectively closing out the crew capsule. That reusable Crew Dragon capsule was attached atop an expendable trunk section – responsible for providing power with a solar array and thermal management with radiators – around May 1st.

Crew Dragon capsule C206 was attached to its expendable trunk section around May 1st. (SpaceX)
Assigned to support Crew Dragon’s inaugural NASA astronaut launch, Falcon 9 booster B1058 is pictured here at Pad 39A on April 1st, 2020. (SpaceX)

Meanwhile, a brand new Falcon 9 Block 5 booster – B1058 – and expendable upper stage are just shy of ready to go inside SpaceX’s main Launch Complex 39A (Pad 39A) hangar. Both were shipped from California to Florida only after both their Merlin engines and each integrated stage completed static fire acceptance tests in McGregor, Texas. As of April 1st, they appeared to be just shy of fully integrated, with B1058 missing only its titanium grid fins (and possibly landing legs).

Now T-12 days to launch, SpaceX could attach the spacecraft to that Falcon 9 rocket at any moment – if it hasn’t already. Before the rocket is fully ready for launch, SpaceX will need to perform a routine wet dress rehearsal (WDR) and static fire test at Pad 39A – partially unique for Crew Dragon because the spacecraft attached during them. Given that Demo-2 is far from a normal SpaceX launch, Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 could roll out for that critical preflight test at any moment.

Crew Dragon C206 and Falcon 9 B1058 could roll out to Pad 39A at any point within the next ~5 days. (NASA)
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will pilot Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time ever. (NASA)

NASA has assigned astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to fly Crew Dragon’s inaugural crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and both astronauts have been training more or less 24/7 for the last 12-18 months, as well as advising SpaceX on Crew Dragon’s design. Now, according to SpaceX, those astronauts will be joined by a mosaic image comprised of thousands of photos uploaded by students around the world, ranging from kindergarten to graduate school and more.

Deemed “Class of 2020”, the project is meant to celebrate the class of 2020 – anyone and everyone set to graduate this year. Although unmentioned, the celebration comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic will almost certainly preclude or dramatically curtail (for good reason) large public gatherings for the sake of public health, disrupting or fully canceling graduation ceremonies around the world. SpaceX says that photos submitted by students will be added to a mosaic of Earth and “will be printed and flown aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during its upcoming mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board.”

An explorable mosaic is currently live on SpaceX’s official website and will eventually be printed and sent into orbit. (SpaceX)

While it won’t replace the events themselves, having a photo physically sent to space certainly won’t hurt for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions of students around the world. If you are a student or know one, you can submit your photo at SpaceX.com/ClassOf2020 before the end of May 20th.

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Astrovan Dragon

Meet the new “Astrovan” for Crew Dragon—a Tesla Model X – Ars Technica

Good gas mileage —

As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changing’.


  • Meet the new Astrovan, with Launch Complex 39A in the background.

  • We’ve got the “meatball” logo.


    Jim Bridenstine/NASA

  • And the “worm.”


    Jim Bridenstine/NASA

  • Astronauts can fit comfortably inside.


    Jim Bridenstine/NASA

On Wednesday, with just two weeks to go before the much-anticipated launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, NASA revealed that astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will ride to the launch pad in a stylized Tesla Model X.

“Here’s some @Tesla news that everyone should love,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted. “Check out the Model X that will carry @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug to the launchpad for the Demo-2 mission!”

For nearly three decades NASA’s astronauts rode in the iconic Astrovan. From 1984 through the end of the shuttle program in 2011, crews flying aboard that vehicle would suit up inside a facility at Kennedy Space Center and then make the nine-mile journey to the launch pad in a modified Airstream Excella RV.

But as Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin’, and SpaceX has provided a ride in a Model X detailed with both NASA’s “meatball” and “worm” logos. In Ars’ review of the Model X, we described the vehicle’s legroom for both front and rear passengers as, “particularly spacious, especially with the fully flat floor made possible by the enormous battery pack and no need for a powertrain tunnel running down the center axis of the vehicle.”

Lest anyone be concerned about Hurley and Behnken squeezing inside the Model X, a source said they “absolutely” can fit with plenty of room to spare and have already done so multiple times.

Teslas and Astrovans

SpaceX founder Elon Musk also owns Tesla, of course, and this is not the first time rockets and cars have commingled. At the SpaceX rocket factory in California, as well as its facilities in Florida and Texas, there are small fleets of the vehicles used to move people around. Musk also launched his own Tesla into space on the inuagural flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018. So this new mode of astronaut transportation probably should come as no surprise.

Both SpaceX and Boeing are building spacecraft to take astronauts into space for NASA under the agency’s commercial crew program. Although Boeing is unlikely to launch humans for another year on its Starliner spacecraft, the company revealed last October that it will opt for a slightly more traditional astronaut transport to the pad.

For this purpose, Boeing will use what it has dubbed “Astrovan II,” built on a modified Airstream Atlas Touring Coach, which itself begins life as a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van chassis.

Ars’ automobile writer, Jonathan Gitlin, was unimpressed by Boeing’s announcement. “For a relatively short journey like that, wouldn’t it have been neat if it ditched the internal combustion engine altogether for a bunch of batteries and some electric motors?” he wrote. “But really, my main issue is aesthetic because the original Astrovan—like most of Airstream’s polished shiny trailers—just looked so darn cool. And Astrovan II looks like a panel van.”

Musk would appear to have granted Gitlin his wish with regard to electric motors.

Listing image by Jim Bridenstine / NASA

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