Dragon V2 / Crew Dragon
Dragon V2 / Crew Dragon
On May 29, 2014, SpaceX unveiled its Dragon V2 spacecraft, the next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to Earth orbit and beyond. Dragon was designed from the beginning to carry humans, and the upgraded vehicle revealed today will be one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. 1) 2)
Dragon V2 (version 2) is the evolution of SpaceX's successful Dragon capsule, which has now made four deliveries to the ISS (International Space Station). CEO Elon Musk called the original Dragon a great "proof of concept”, but proclaimed Dragon V2 a spaceship for the 21st century. No longer will it parachute down into the ocean; instead, it will use rockets to land with the precision of a helicopter anywhere on Earth. With engines 160 times more powerful than the original, Dragon V2 will be multiply redundant for enhanced crew safety. Beyond that, advances in heat shield and engine design will allow the new ship to be quickly reusable. The company claims this could dramatically lower the cost putting people in space.
Figure 1: Photo of the Dragon V2 astronaut transporter model (image credit: SpaceX)
SpaceX hopes to begin testing crewed flights in late 2015 or early 2016, but it's unknown when Dragon V2 might begin to make unmanned test flights. But, SpaceX's vision is clear: when Dragon V2 is combined with a reusable Falcon 9 rocket, the company can offer a completely-reusable space system to ferry cargo and crew into Earth orbit. If successful, this could dramatically lower the cost of putting people and supplies into space. 3)
The top of the V2 is equipped to open up and expose a docking probe so it’s able to dock autonomously at the ISS – and at the same port as NASA’s now retired space shuttle orbiters. 4)
Figure 2: Animation of the SpaceX Dragon V2 docking with the ISS (image credit: SpaceX)
Ever since the US space shuttle program ended in 2011, the world's astronauts have depended on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS, an orbiting outpost built and maintained by more than a dozen countries.
SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin have all received funding from NASA in a PPP (Public Private Partnership) agreement to help them develop next-generation spacecraft that will someday carry astronauts to space. SpaceX has said its crew capsule may be able to reach the ISS with astronauts aboard by 2017.
• April 17, 2020: A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission. The specific duration of the mission is to be determined. 5)
- As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.
Figure 3: The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes final processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in preparation for the Demo-2 launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Crew Dragon will carry Behnken and Hurley atop a Falcon 9 rocket, returning crew launches to the space station from U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011 (photo credit: SpaceX)
- The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars with the agency’s Artemis program. 6)
• April 7, 2020: Safety is a top priority as NASA and SpaceX prepare for liftoff of the company’s second demonstration flight test (Demo-2), the first flight to carry astronauts to the International Space Station onboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The teams conducted an emergency egress exercise at Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 3. The end-to-end demonstration is the latest in a series of similar exercises to ensure the crew and support teams can quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff. 7)
Figure 4: On 3 April 2020, NASA and SpaceX completed an end-to-end demonstration of the teams’ ability to safely evacuate crew members from the Fixed Service Structure during an emergency situation at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (photo credit: SpaceX)
- NASA and SpaceX personnel, including the Kennedy pad rescue team, participated in the exercise. The primary objective was to demonstrate the teams’ ability to safely evacuate crew members from the launch pad during an emergency situation. Teams rehearsed locating injured personnel on the 265-foot-level of the launch tower, loading them into the pad’s slidewire baskets and safely descending the tower, then successfully loading the injured participants into MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles staged at the pad perimeter.
Figure 5: Photo of the pad’s slidewire basket with the rescue team (photo credit: SpaceX)
- Scheduled for launch no earlier than May 2020, Demo-2 will be the first launch of NASA astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station since the space shuttle era. It also is the final flight test for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft system to be certified for regular flights to the station with crew onboard.
• March 31, 2020: Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s CCP (Commercial Crew Program). 8)
- Over the last several months, key members of flight control teams working from NASA’s Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, simulated different phases of the upcoming mission while the Demo-2 astronaut crew practiced procedures from inside a realistic simulator of Crew Dragon.
Figure 6: On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front) participating in SpaceX's flight simulator (image credit: SpaceX)
- “The simulations were a great opportunity to practice procedures and to coordinate decision-making for the mission management team, especially with respect to weather,” said Michael Hess, manager of Operations Integration for CCP. “Simulation supervisors do a great job at picking cases that really make the team think and discuss.”
- Recent simulations saw teams execute timelines from hatch closure to undocking with the space station — as well as a free flight in preparation for re-entry and splashdown. In March, the control teams and crew ran through a simulated mission starting at prelaunch and continuing through ascent and eventual rendezvous with the station.
- This recent sim makes the excitement all the more tangible, especially for the greater NASA team.
- “What’s happening in commercial crew is a big deal,” Hess said. “It will be the first time to launch astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, and it will be the first time since STS-1 that we will launch astronauts in a new spacecraft. This new spacecraft, Crew Dragon, was designed and built by SpaceX, not by NASA and traditional contractor partnerships — another first. Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley) will definitely be earning their spacecraft test pilot wings with this mission. Also, the Space Station Program is really looking forward to another way to rotate crews to station to perform science and experiments to benefit all.”
- As the countdown clock winds down, Crew Dragon is undergoing final testing and prelaunch processing in a SpaceX facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. All the activity is also kicking off “more simulations, final crew training and flight readiness reviews to ensure all of the mission systems and subsystems are ready for a crewed test flight,” Hess noted.
- When Crew Dragon launches atop a Falcon 9 rocket with Behnken and Hurley strapped inside as early as mid-to-late May, it will herald a new era for human spaceflight, enabling greater access to low-Earth orbit and destinations beyond with the help of commercial partners.
- The Demo-2 crew is proceeding with its scheduled training activities. Astronaut trainers, along with all NASA employees, are closely adhering to CDC recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus. As all NASA centers are currently operating in a mode that requires any non-mission-essential work to be done remotely, the number of employees in contact with the crew is limited.
• March 19, 2020: Elon Musk's SpaceX will send astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time in May, NASA said, announcing the first crewed launch from the United States to the platform since 2011. 9)
- The tech entrepreneur's company will launch a Falcon 9 rocket to transport NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in a first for the space agency as it looks to cut costs.
- "NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting no earlier than mid-to-late May for launch," the US space agency said in a statement Wednesday.
- In March, Musk's Crew Dragon capsule made a round trip to the ISS, which is in orbit more than 400 km above Earth, with a mannequin on board, before returning to the Atlantic after six days in space.
- Since the last US space shuttle mission in 2011, after 30 years of service, only the Russians have been going back and forth to the ISS.
Figure 7: NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken familiarize themselves with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the spacecraft that will transport them to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Their upcoming flight test is known as Demo-2, short for Demonstration Mission 2. The Crew Dragon will launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (image credit: NASA) 10)
Launch: NASA announced the launch of SpaceX's Crew Dragon’s first test flight (Demo-2) to the ISS — with astronauts on-board —for 27 May 2020 from the LC-39A at KSC on a Falcon-9 Block 5 vehicle. 11)
A decade in the making, NASA and SpaceX have set May 27 as the target launch date for the first crewed space mission to launch into orbit from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º.
• February 14, 2020: SpaceX’s next Crew Dragon capsule was delivered to Cape Canaveral this week from a California factory for a liftoff as soon as this spring with veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a test flight to the International Space Station, officials announced Friday. 12)
Figure 8: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft that will deliver astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, has arrived at Cape Canaveral for launch preparations (image credit: SpaceX)
- The human-rated spaceship arrived at a test and processing facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday following a cross-country trip from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
- “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.”
- In 2014, NASA tapped Boeing and SpaceX with contracts valued at $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively, to develop, test and fly commercial human-rated spacecraft designed to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.
- Barring a major setback, SpaceX is widely expected to be ready to fly astronauts before Boeing.
- The Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the same departure point as the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, and the first and last space shuttle flights.
- Hurley, a pilot on two space shuttle missions, will serve as vehicle commander on the Crew Dragon test flight, known as Demo-2. Behnken, also a veteran of two shuttle flights, will be the vehicle pilot.
- NASA officials are considering launch dates in May for the Demo-2 mission, but the schedule could shift as SpaceX steps through launch preparations. The space station’s busy schedule of visiting crew and cargo vehicles could also change, forcing a shift in the Demo-2 launch date.
- Another factor that could drive the Demo-2 launch schedule is additional training for Hurley and Behnken in case NASA extends their stay on the space station.
- The first piloted missions aboard the Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner spacecraft were originally designed as shorter-duration test flights lasting days or weeks. After the test flights, NASA intended to certify the two spacecraft for longer-duration missions lasting up to 210 days for regular crew rotation flights to the space station.
- But delays in the readiness of the new commercial crew spaceships forced NASA to consider extending the duration of the test flights. NASA has purchased seats on Russian Soyuz capsules flying to the station, which have provided the only ride to the orbiting research complex for U.S. astronauts since 2011.
- The last Soyuz mission with a seat currently under NASA’s control launches April 9 and returns to Earth in October. With reduced demand from NASA expected after the start of SpaceX and Boeing crew services, Russia slowed the manufacturing of new Soyuz vehicles.
- But the Crew Dragon and Starliner spacecraft were not ready when NASA expected. The space station typically has a crew of six, but with the slower rate of Soyuz launches, the research lab will operate with a crew of three for most of 2020, at least until a U.S. vehicle arrives with reinforcements.
- The space agency has approved an extension of the first crewed Starliner mission to last up to six months. NASA may also approve a months-long extension of the Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission to ensure the space station is staffed with more than three crew members.
- That gives station managers more flexibility in planning repairs and scientific research.
- Hurley and Behnken are training to live and work aboard the station in case NASA authorizes the astronauts to stay in orbit longer than initially planned. Hurley is training as a robotic arm operator, and Behnken is receiving refreshed training on spacewalks.
• January 19, 2020: SpaceX successfully tested its emergency abort system on an unmanned spacecraft moments after launch Sunday, according to a live broadcast of the event, the last major test before it plans to send NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. 13)
- The test launch began at 10:30 am (15:30 GMT) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket topped by SpaceX's new Crew Dragon spacecraft. The rocket was programmed to perform as if it were launching the capsule into orbit.
- One minute and 24 seconds after launch, at an altitude of 19 kilometers over the Atlantic and as the rocket was traveling at a speed of more than 1,500 km/hour, an emergency escape sequence was set in motion.
- The spacecraft ignited its powerful SuperDraco thrusters, propelling it away from the rocket.
- Shortly after the separation, the rocket disintegrated in a ball of fire, as planned — followed by an Atlantic splashdown.
- On a manned mission, the maneuver is designed to rescue the astronauts in the event the rocket has a problem on ascent or veers off course.
- Crew Dragon continued its upward trajectory alone reaching an altitude of about 40 km before beginning its natural descent toward the Atlantic.
- Four large parachutes opened to brake its descent and splashdown in the Atlantic, where recovery teams were pre-positioned. Nine minutes after launch, Crew Dragon was in the water, apparently without suffering damage.
- Analysis of the spacecraft and flight data will confirm whether the test came off without a hitch, and whether the spacecraft is ready for manned missions.
- NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a press conference that the test appeared to be a complete success.
- The favorable outcome of the peril-filled test is good news for SpaceX and for NASA, which urgently needs to certify a vehicle to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) this year.
- Since 2011, the United States has had to rely on Russia's Soyuz rockets, the only ones capable of carrying astronauts to the space station once the US retired its space shuttle fleet.
- NASA has a similar contract with Boeing, which has developed the Starliner spacecraft for manned flights.
- In March 2019, SpaceX successfully made a one-week round trip to the ISS with an unmanned Crew Dragon.
- The first manned flight of the capsule is expected to take place this March at the earliest, said Kathy Lueders, NASA's commercial flight program chief, on Friday.
• January 13, 2020: NASA and SpaceX are preparing to launch the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test, known as in-flight abort, will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch. The uncrewed flight test is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, at the start of a four-hour test window, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. 14)
Figure 9: The uncrewed in-flight abort demonstration is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. There is a four-hour test window (image credit: SpaceX)
- SpaceX performed a full-duration static test Saturday, Jan. 11, of the Falcon 9 and completed a static fire of the Crew Dragon on Nov. 13, setting the stage for the critical flight test.
- Prior to launch, SpaceX and NASA teams will practice launch day end-to-end operations with NASA astronauts, including final spacecraft inspections and side hatch closeout. Additionally, SpaceX and NASA flight controllers along with support teams will be staged as they will for future Crew Dragon missions, helping the integrated launch team gain additional experience beyond existing simulations and training events.
- After liftoff, Falcon 9’s ascent will follow a trajectory that will mimic a Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station matching the physical environments the rocket and spacecraft will encounter during a normal ascent.
- For this test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape prior to 1 min, 30 seconds into flight to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. Once the launch escape sequence begins, Falcon 9’s first stage Merlin engines will shut down and Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco thrusters will begin their firing sequence. The launch vehicle and spacecraft will separate, and Crew Dragon’s SuperDracos will burn to completion.
- After Crew Dragon’s SuperDracos shutdown, the spacecraft will passively coast to apogee, the highest point in its arc. Near apogee, Crew Dragon’s trunk will separate and the smaller Draco thrusters will re-orient the spacecraft for reentry and parachute deploy. At the appropriate conditions, Dragon’s drogue and main parachutes will sequence to provide for a soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean near SpaceX Dragon recovery teams.
- Following Crew Dragon’s separation, Falcon 9 is expected to aerodynamically break up offshore over the Atlantic Ocean. Expected breakup time will vary based upon a number of factors, including day of launch winds and expected minor variations in vehicle attitudes and positions, but could occur shortly after separation or later upon reentry from the upper atmosphere. In either scenario, a dedicated team of SpaceX Falcon 9 recovery personnel will be staged and ready to begin recovering debris immediately after breakup.
- As part of the Dragon recovery operation, Air Force Detachment-3 personnel will work with the SpaceX recovery team to observe Crew Dragon and practice their initial approach to the spacecraft in the open ocean, mimicking an actual rescue operation before the SpaceX team recovers Crew Dragon for return to Cape Canaveral.
- SpaceX’s uncrewed in-flight abort demonstration test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities is designed to provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Figure 10: The uncrewed in-flight abort demonstration is targeted for 8 a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 18, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. There is a four-hour test window (video credit: SpaceX)
• November 13, 2019: Today, SpaceX has completed a series of static fire engine tests of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in advance of an in-flight launch escape demonstration, known as the In-Flight Abort Test. 15)
Figure 11: The tests will help validate the launch escape system ahead of Crew Dragon's in-flight abort demonstration planned as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX and NASA will now review the data from Thursday's test, perform detailed hardware inspections, and establish a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test (image credit: NASA)
- The engine tests, conducted near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, began with two burns for a duration of one-second each for two of Crew Dragon’s 16 Draco thrusters. The Draco thrusters are used for on-orbit maneuvering and attitude control, and would also be used for re-orientation during certain in-flight launch escapes. Following these initial Draco thruster burns, the team completed a full-duration firing for approximately nine seconds of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDraco engines are designed to accelerate Dragon away from the F9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency after liftoff.
- In quick succession, immediately after the SuperDracos shut down, two Dracos thrusters fired and all eight SuperDraco flaps closed, mimicking the sequence required to reorient the spacecraft in-flight to a parachute deploy attitude and close the flaps prior to reentry. The full sequence, from SuperDraco startup to flap closure, spanned approximately 70 seconds.
- In April, during a similar set of engine tests, the spacecraft experienced an anomaly which led to an explosion and loss of the vehicle. In the following months, an Anomaly Investigation Team made up of SpaceX and NASA personnel determined that a slug of liquid propellant in the high-flow helium pressurization system unexpectedly caused a titanium ignition event resulting in an explosion. Based on that investigation’s findings and months of testing, SpaceX redesigned components of the system to eliminate the possibility of slugs entering the high-flow pressurization system.
- SpaceX and NASA will now review the data from today’s test, perform detailed hardware inspections, and establish a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test.
• October 11, 2019: SpaceX could launch US astronauts to the International Space Station as early as next year if tests on the company's long-delayed Crew Dragon capsule prove conclusive, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday. 16)
- Bridenstine made the announcement as he toured the California headquarters of billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX, a major contractor for NASA. The visit came as Bridenstine and Musk have been engaged in a public spat over the much-delayed building of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
- The capsule would provide the transportation for astronauts to the space station for the first time since America's space shuttle program ended in 2011.
- Musk, who appeared at a news conference alongside Bridenstine and the two astronauts who are set to fly on board the spacecraft, said he hoped to have the capsule delivered to NASA by the end of the year. He stressed, however, that safety was paramount and the launch would be delayed without hesitation if any problems arise.
- "If everything goes according to plan, it would be in the first quarter of next year," Bridenstine said of the launch. "But remember — and this is the important thing that we have to get right on messaging — there are still things that we can learn or could learn that could be challenging that we have to resolve.
- "I'm not saying that's going to happen, I don't know. That's why we test."
- Some of the technical challenges SpaceX is working on include concerns about the parachutes and the propulsion system. "It's a pretty arduous engineering job to get the parachutes right," Musk said.
- "Parachutes, they look easy but they are definitely not easy," he added. "We want to get at least something on the order of 10 successful tests in a row before launching astronauts."
- Since retiring its space shuttle program, NASA has had to rely on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the space station at a cost of $85 million a seat. It is now counting on SpaceX and Boeing to carry out that task.
- SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Musk to help reduce space transportation costs — and with an ultimate goal of helping colonize Mars.
- The first manned flight to the space station was due to take place last year but SpaceX suffered a major setback in April when its Crew Dragon spacecraft exploded during testing, prompting delays and renewed tests.
- "You know, honestly, if there's a test program and nothing happens in that test program, I would say that test program is insufficiently rigorous," Musk said Thursday. "Space is hard," he added.
• July 15, 2019: Update: In-flight abort static fire test anomaly investigation: On Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 18:13 UTC, SpaceX conducted a series of static fire engine tests of the Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort test vehicle on a test stand at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 17)
- Crew Dragon’s design includes two distinct propulsion systems – a low-pressure bi-propellant propulsion system with sixteen Draco thrusters for on-orbit maneuvering, and a high-pressure bi-propellant propulsion system with eight SuperDraco thrusters for use only in the event of a launch escape. After the vehicle’s successful demonstration mission to and from the International Space Station in March 2019, SpaceX performed additional tests of the vehicle’s propulsion systems to ensure functionality and detect any system-level issues prior to a planned In-Flight Abort test.
- The initial tests of twelve Draco thrusters on the vehicle completed successfully, but the initiation of the final test of eight SuperDraco thrusters resulted in destruction of the vehicle. In accordance with pre-established safety protocols, the test area was clear and the team monitored winds and other factors to ensure public health and safety.
- Following the anomaly, SpaceX convened an Accident Investigation Team that included officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and observers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and began the systematic work on a comprehensive fault tree to determine probable cause. SpaceX also worked closely with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to secure the test site, and collect and clean debris as part of the investigation. The site was operational prior to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch of STP-2 and landing of two first stage side boosters at Landing Zones 1 and 2 on June 25, 2019.
- Initial data reviews indicated that the anomaly occurred approximately 100 milliseconds prior to ignition of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco thrusters and during pressurization of the vehicle’s propulsion systems. Evidence shows that a leaking component allowed liquid oxidizer – nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) – to enter high-pressure helium tubes during ground processing. A slug of this NTO was driven through a helium check valve at high speed during rapid initialization of the launch escape system, resulting in structural failure within the check valve. The failure of the titanium component in a high-pressure NTO environment was sufficient to cause ignition of the check valve and led to an explosion.
- In order to understand the exact scenario, and characterize the flammability of the check valve’s titanium internal components and NTO, as well as other material used within the system, the accident investigation team performed a series of tests at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. Debris collected from the test site in Florida, which identified burning within the check valve, informed the tests in Texas. Additionally, the SuperDraco thrusters recovered from the test site remained intact, underscoring their reliability.
- It is worth noting that the reaction between titanium and NTO at high pressure was not expected. Titanium has been used safely over many decades and on many spacecraft from all around the world. Even so, the static fire test and anomaly provided a wealth of data. Lessons learned from the test – and others in our comprehensive test campaign – will lead to further improvements in the safety and reliability of SpaceX’s flight vehicles.
- SpaceX has already initiated several actions, such as eliminating any flow path within the launch escape system for liquid propellant to enter the gaseous pressurization system. Instead of check valves, which typically allow liquid to flow in only one direction, burst disks, which seal completely until opened by high pressure, will mitigate the risk entirely. Thorough testing and analysis of these mitigations has already begun in close coordination with NASA, and will be completed well in advance of future flights.
- With multiple Crew Dragon vehicles in various stages of production and testing, SpaceX has shifted the spacecraft assignments forward to stay on track for Commercial Crew Program flights. The Crew Dragon spacecraft originally assigned to SpaceX’s second demonstration mission to the International Space Station (Demo-2) will carry out the company’s In-Flight Abort test, and the spacecraft originally assigned to the first operational mission (Crew-1) will launch as part of Demo-2.
• On 2 May 2019, SpaceX acknowledged that the company's Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed last weekend in an explosion during a test firing. 18)
- "It is too early to confirm any cause," Vice President Hans Koenigsmann during a press conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "This will make us a better company ... to ensure that Crew Dragon is one of the safest spacecraft ever built."
- Koenigsmann also confirmed, as had been suspected by observers, that the explosion happened Saturday during activation of the spacecraft's SuperDraco thrusters, which are used to land the craft as part of a launch escape system. The company has tested the Crew Dragon systems 600 times, he said. "We do not think it was a problem with the SuperDraco itself," he said.
- But the explosion should not have any effect on SpaceX's Cargo Dragon capsules, NASA said Thursday. The cargo spacecraft doesn't have the same SuperDraco thrusters.
• April 25, 2019: NASA and SpaceX remained tight-lipped Thursday about what caused a mysterious but apparently serious incident last weekend during engine tests on the Crew Dragon capsule designed to carry US astronauts to the ISS (International Space Station) later this year. SpaceX is leading an investigation of the mishap with active NASA participation. 19)
• April 23, 2019: Something went wrong Saturday (April 20) as SpaceX tested the emergency escape system on the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft. The incident was bad news for SpaceX and NASA's goal of putting astronauts into space via a commercial mission in the near future. 20)
- The company and NASA have been a bit cagey about the exact nature of the incident, which both SpaceX and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine termed an "anomaly" in their statements. But Florida Today reported that a smoke plume was visible for "miles" around Cape Canaveral after the incident. And an unconfirmed video (shared on Twitter and since deleted) appeared to show a severe explosion in the spacecraft. No one was aboard the craft during the test.
- "The NASA and SpaceX teams are assessing the anomaly that occurred today during a part of the Dragon SuperDraco static fire test at SpaceX Landing Zone 1 in Florida," Bridenstine posted on Twitter Saturday night. "This is why we test. We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program."
- The damaged spacecraft was the same Crew Dragon capsule that traveled to space on March 2 as part of an uncrewed mission (dubbed Demo-1) to the International Space Station, as Live Science sister site Space.com reported.
- The static fire test (in which the spacecraft is held in place) was a precursor to a live test of the SuperDraco thrusters. These are designed to safely heave the capsule away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. The Dragon capsule was being prepared for that test.
- Spaceflight Now reported that the first crewed mission on Dragon, called Demo-2, would have involved a new Dragon capsule. It was scheduled for sometime after July 25, though Spaceflight Now reported that the launch was already likely going to be delayed by several months before this incident happened.
- SpaceX isn't the only company working to build a viable spacecraft for crewed missions. Boeing is due to launch its Starliner capsule uncrewed later this year. However, as Space.com reported, that launch has faced its own delays.
- Until one of these companies gets its crewed rockets working, NASA (which has invested in commercial crewed missions in a big way since the space shuttle's retirement in 2011) is stuck hitching rides for its astronauts to and from space on Russian Soyuz capsules.
• April 21, 2019: A mysterious but apparently serious incident occurred Saturday in Cape Canaveral, Florida involving the SpaceX capsule intended to carry American astronauts into space late this year, the private company and NASA announced. 21)
- "Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida," a SpaceX spokesman said in a statement. "The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand."
- A photo on the Florida Today website showed large amounts of smoke pouring out of the test site, and there was speculation about a possible explosion, but neither SpaceX nor NASA would provide any immediate detail.
- NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine referred on Twitter only to an "anomaly."
- "This is why we test," he added. "We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward."
- Crew Dragon undertook a successful test flight in March, sending an unmanned capsule to dock for five days with the International Space Station before returning to Earth.
- NASA called the flight "a major milestone," and it raised hopes that the Crew Dragon's first manned flight could take place before year's end.
- The capsule is equipped with eight rocket engines (named SuperDraco) that can provide an emergency backup system: for example, if the launch vehicle encounters a problem, SuperDraco allows the capsule to quickly detach and return the astronauts safely to Earth.
- NASA is counting on SpaceX's capsule, as well as Boeing's Starliner, to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS, a task handled since 2011 by Russia.
- SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk to help reduce space transportation costs — and with an ultimate goal of helping colonize Mars.
• March 2, 2019: Crew Dragon Demo-1 — SpaceX launches first Crew Dragon ferry ship (see description below)
• February 23, 2019: NASA on Friday (22 February) gave SpaceX the green light to test a new crew capsule by first sending an unmanned craft with a life-sized mannequin to the International Space Station. 22)
- "We're go for launch, we're go for docking," said William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator with NASA Human Exploration and Operations.
- A Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX is scheduled to lift off, weather permitting, on 2 March 2019 to take the Crew Dragon test capsule to the ISS.
- "This is an absolutely critical first step that we do as we move towards returning the crewed launch capability back here to the US," said Gerstenmaier, speaking at a press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
- The 2 March flight will be identical to a flight that is set to take two astronauts to the ISS later in the year, possibly in July.
- The Crew Dragon capsule has seven seats. It should dock with the ISS on 3 March, then detach and return to Earth on 8 March.
- "I guarantee everything will not work exactly right, and that's cool, that's exactly what we want to do," said Gerstenmaier.
- "We want to maximize our learning so when... we're ready to go do a real crewed mission, and it'll be the right safety for our crews."
- SpaceX has already made more than a dozen unmanned trips since 2012 carrying supplies to the ISS with the cargo version of the Dragon capsule.
- But the safety criteria for manned flights are higher, and NASA said that the Crew Dragon still has some problems, including with its parachutes.
- "It's a really big deal for SpaceX," said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk.
• January 25, 2019: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (Dragon 2) sporting human-rating upgrades such as new composite pressurant tanks briefly ignited its nine Merlin engines Thursday afternoon on a launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and SpaceX later declared the pre-launch milestone complete in preparation for a critical test flight with a commercial crew capsule as soon as late February. 23)
Figure 12: A plume of rocket exhaust emerges from the flame trench at launch pad 39A during Thursday’s Falcon 9 hold-down test-firing (image credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now)
- Crowned with SpaceX’s first space-worthy Crew Dragon spacecraft, the Falcon 9 rocket counted down to ignition of its nine Merlin 1D first stage engines at 4 p.m. EST (21:00 GMT) Thursday (24 January) atop launch pad 39A, the same launch complex used by NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rockets and space shuttles.
- After the launch pad’s crew access arm retracted and the Falcon 9 was filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, a cloud of rocket exhaust emerged from the flame trench north of the launch pad as the Merlin engines fired at T-minus 3 seconds in the mock countdown and throttled up for a burn that was expected to last around seven seconds.
- Hold-down clamps kept the 1.2-million-pound (540,000 kg) rocket on the ground at pad 39A for the static fire test, a customary milestone in all SpaceX launch campaigns.
- Multiple sources said the test-firing cut off before reaching the full planned duration Thursday, but SpaceX declared the test a success, clearing the way for the rocket to be lowered horizontal and rolled back to a nearby hangar for final checkouts and preparations ahead of liftoff next month.
- Thursday’s test-firing occurred one year — to the day — after SpaceX conducted the static fire test ahead of the inaugural launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which took off 6 February 2018.
- NASA and SpaceX managers are targeting launch of the Crew Dragon’s first test flight — without astronauts on-board — no earlier than 23 February. The instrumented, privately-developed capsule will launch toward the International Space Station, arriving there a day or two after liftoff, then return to a splashdown at sea in early March.
- The Crew Dragon is one of two commercial spacecraft NASA aims to use to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending the space agency’s sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transportation to the orbiting research laboratory. NASA signed a $2.6 billion contract with SpaceX in 2014 to design, develop and fly the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the agreement covers the two test flights — Demo-1 without astronauts and Demo-2 with astronauts on-board — and six operational crew rotation flights to the station once NASA reviews the results of the demonstration missions.
- NASA has a similar $4.2 billion contract with Boeing for development of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which will launch on United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets, also from Cape Canaveral.
- The Crew Dragon’s Demo-1 mission will launch aboard the Falcon 9 rocket into low Earth orbit, and rendezvous with the space station around 400 km above Earth, moving in for an automated docking, a first-time achievement for SpaceX.
- The company’s current Dragon cargo capsules are grappled by the station’s robotic arm. The Crew Dragon — also called Dragon 2 — represents a brand new spacecraft design, with new life support systems, crew accommodations, and propulsion, electrical and thermal control systems not used on the previous Dragon vehicles.
- For example, the Crew Dragon features powerful hydrazine-fueled SuperDraco thruster pods that could be used to drive the capsule away from a failing launch vehicle. The spacecraft’s rear trunk section also has solar panels mounted on the body of the vehicle — they were fixed to deployable wings on the first-generation Dragon spacecraft — and a thermal radiator to keep the craft’s temperature within limits. Crew-carrying Dragons will also have seats and an astronaut control panel.
- SpaceX has also introduced upgrades to the Falcon 9 rocket to get ready for crew flights, including new composite high-pressure helium tanks to replace reservoirs whose design engineers concluded contributed to the explosion of a Falcon 9 on its launch pad in 2016 during fueling.
- NASA requires SpaceX to launch seven Falcon 9 rockets using the new composite overwrapped pressure vessels before putting astronauts on the rocket. The new helium tanks began flying on the second stage in November, and on the first stage last month.
Figure 13: The Crew Dragon spacecraft inside SpaceX’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (image credit: SpaceX)
- Assuming the Demo-1 launch goes according to plan, and an in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft goes off without a hitch in the next few months, SpaceX could be ready to launch a two-man crew to the station as soon as mid-June on the Demo-2 flight, followed by regular crew ferry flights to the orbiting complex by the end of the year.
- The launch of Boeing’s first CST-100 test flight to low Earth orbit is expected later this year. It was most recently officially targeted for March, but that schedule is now out-of-date, and NASA has not provided a revised timeframe for the mission.
- The partial shutdown of the federal government is not having major impacts on the Crew Dragon preparations. SpaceX personnel can continue working on the company’s payroll, and NASA employees necessary for support duties and readiness reviews leading up to the Demo-1 launch have been granted exceptions to continue working — without a paycheck — because their work has been deemed essential to maintain the space station.
• On January 3, 2019, the complete vehicle – including Crew Dragon – was rolled out from the HIF onto Pad 39A. The vehicle then underwent fit checks – including rotating the new Crew Access Arm over to Crew Dragon, ensuring a good fit. 24) 25)
- The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon capsule which will execute the Demonstration Mission-1 (DM-1) test flight have rolled out to Pad 39A for fit checks ahead of launch. The rollout is a strong indicator that SpaceX is nearly ready to perform the much anticipated DM-1 mission – an uncrewed certification flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
- The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon capsule which will execute the Demonstration Mission-1 (DM-1) test flight have rolled out to Pad 39A for fit checks ahead of launch. The rollout is a strong indicator that SpaceX is nearly ready to perform the much anticipated DM-1 mission – an uncrewed certification flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
- Preparations for the rollout began during the first half of December, with the Crew Dragon capsule being moved to the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Pad 39A for integration with the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Figure 14: A crew access arm reaches toward SpaceX's first Crew Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 3, 2019 ahead of an uncrewed test flight (image credit: SpaceX)
• May 6, 2015: Soaring on the power of an octet of SuperDrago engines, SpaceX successfully completed a critical rapid fire life-saving test of their Dragon crew capsules pad abort emergency escape system that would ignite in a split second to save the astronauts lives in the unlikely event of a failure of the Falcon 9 booster rocket at the Cape Canaveral launch pad. 26)
- The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon roared swiftly skywards upon ignition of the test vehicle’s integrated SuperDraco engines at 9 a.m EDT this morning, Wednesday, May 6, for the mile high test conducted from the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch pad from a specially built platform at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
- A human-sized crash test dummy was seated inside for the test exercise which ended safely with a parachute assisted Atlantic Ocean splashdown after less than two minutes. There were no astronauts aboard.
- The SuperDraco engines fired for approximately six seconds and accelerated the crew Dragon “from 0 to 100 mph in 1.2 seconds. It reached a top speed of about 345 mph,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a post test briefing.
- “This bodes quite well for the future of the program. I don’t want to jinx it, but this is really quite a good indication for the future of Dragon.” said Elon Musk. “We hope to launch the first crews to the ISS within about two years, plus or minus six months.”
- The side mounted escape engines mark a revolutionary change from the traditional top mounted launch escape system used previously in the Mercury, Apollo, Soyuz and Orion human spaceflight capsules. The space shuttle had no escape system beyond ejections seats used on the first four flights.
Figure 15: Photo of the SpaceX Pad Abort Test with the Crew Dragon shortly after launch (image credit: NASA, Universe Today)
- Dragon was mounted atop the finned trunk section for the test. The entire Dragon/trunk assembly was about 5 meters tall.
- The test is a critical milestone towards the timely development of the human rated Dragon that NASA is counting on to restore the US capability to launch astronauts from US soil abroad US rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2017.
- “This is a critical step toward ensuring crew safety for government and commercial endeavors in low-Earth orbit,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Congratulations to SpaceX on what appears to have been a successful test on the company’s road toward achieving NASA certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to and from the International Space Station.”
Figure 16: Powered by its SuperDraco engines, the uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon flies through its paces in the Pad Abort Test from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (video credit: NASA)
- After all the monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide hypergolic propellants were consumed, Dragon soared as planned to an altitude of about 1500 meters above the launch pad. At about T+21 seconds the trunk was jettisoned and the spacecraft began a slow rotation with its heat shield pointed toward the ground again as it arced out eastwards over the ocean.
- The drogue chutes and trio of red and white main parachutes deployed as planned for a picturesque Dragon splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about a mile offshore of its Cape Canaveral launch pad. The capsule was retrieved from the ocean by waiting recovery boats.
- Today’s pad abort demonstration tested the ability of the set of eight SuperDraco engines integrated directly into the side walls of the crew Dragon to ignite simultaneously and pull the vehicle away from the launch pad in a split second – in a simulated emergency to save the astronauts lives in the event of a real emergency.
- Therefore the Pad Abort Test did not include an actual Falcon 9 booster since it was focused on a checkout of the capsule’s escape capability.
- The crew Dragon is outfitted with 270 sensors to measure a wide range of vehicle, engine, acceleration and abort test parameters.
- The pad abort test was accomplished under SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA, that will eventually lead to certification of the Dragon for crewed missions to low Earth orbit and the ISS.
Crew Dragon Parameters
Dragon is a free-flying spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to orbiting destinations. Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments. It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Currently Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the beginning to carry humans. As part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew. The first demonstration flight for this program is targeted for February 2019. 27)
Figure 17: First Private Spacecraft to the Space Station (video credit: SpaceX)
• Total launch payload mass: 6,000 kg
• Total launch payload volume: 25 m3
Pressurized Section: The pressurized section of the spacecraft, also referred to as the capsule, is designed to carry both cargo and humans into space. Towards the base of the capsule but outside the pressurized structure are the Draco thrusters, Dragon's GNC (Guidance Navigation and Control) bay and Dragon's advanced heat shield.
• Spacecraft payload volume: 11 m3.
Trunk: Dragon’s trunk supports the spacecraft during ascent to space, carries unpressurized cargo and houses Dragon’s solar arrays. The trunk and solar arrays remain attached to Dragon until shortly before reentry to Earth’s atmosphere, when they are jettisoned.
•Trunk Payload Volume: 14 m3.
Total Return Payload Mass: 3,000 kg; Total return payload volume: 11m3.
Technical Overview: Height with trunk: 7.2 m; Diameter: 3.7 m; Sidewall angle: 15º; Orbit duration: up to 2 years.
Figure 18: Crew Dragon vehicle with Shield, Pressurized Section, and Trunk (image credit: SpaceX)
Crew Dragon Demo-1 — SpaceX launches first Crew Dragon ferry ship
Launch: At 2:49 a.m. EST on March 2, 2019, SpaceX launched Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission (Demo-1) from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a Falcon-9 Block 5 vehicle. This test flight without crew on board the spacecraft is intended to demonstrate SpaceX’s capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. 28)
Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º.
Figure 19: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket fires away from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with the first space-bound Crew Dragon capsule (image credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now)
• March 2, 2019: Opening a new era in American spaceflight, a Falcon 9 rocket streaked into space early Saturday, boosting the company’s first Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit on an unpiloted test flight, the first launch of a commercially developed capsule intended to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. 29)
- Looking on 3.2 miles from the launch pad in the SpaceX launch control room were astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who plan to be aboard the next Crew Dragon when it takes off on the program’s second test flight in the mid-summer timeframe. That will be the first launch of American astronauts aboard a U.S. rocket since the shuttle program ended in 2011.
- “I can’t begin to explain to you how exciting it is for a test pilot to be on a first flight of a vehicle,” Hurley, a shuttle veteran and former Marine Corps F/A-18 test pilot, told reporters before launch. “We’ll be ready when SpaceX and NASA are ready for us to fly it.”
- That will depend on how the unpiloted Crew Dragon does this week during the Commercial Crew Program’s initial launch, a flight intended to thoroughly test the spacecraft’s myriad systems before trusting it to carry astronauts.
- Along with enduring the rigors of launch, the capsule must autonomously rendezvous and dock with the space station early Sunday and then return to Earth Friday with a hypersonic plunge back into the atmosphere and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.
- “We’re going to test its navigation capabilities, we’re going to test avionics, telemetry, we’re going to test the reaction control system, its ability to dock, its ability to re-enter,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We’re going to make assessments based on this about how it might need to be tweaked or changed.
• March 3, 2019: Closing out a 27-hour pursuit after a predawn launch from Florida’s Space Coast, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule glided to an automated docking early Sunday at the International Space Station, accomplishing one of the ship’s key test objectives before astronauts take a ride later this year. 30)
Figure 20: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft closes in for docking Sunday at the International Space Station (image credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now)
- Aided by laser rangefinder and a thermal camera, the Crew Dragon approached the space station on autopilot and linked up with a docking port on the forward end of the complex at 5:51 a.m. EST (10:51 GMT) Sunday (3 March), becoming the first privately-owned human-rated spaceship to reach the massive research outpost in orbit.
- The link-up occurred as the station soared at an altitude of more than 400 km north of New Zealand, during orbital nighttime.
- “Today, we welcome a brand new spacecraft to space station, a great new addition to the quiver of tools we have ... to further space exploration,” said David Saint-Jacques, a Canadian Space Agency flight engineer and member of the station’s Expedition 58 crew. “This is the first day of a new era for the next generation of space explorers.”
- The only passengers aboard the Crew Dragon during Sunday’s docking were an instrumented test dummy named “Ripley,” a plush toy Earth added as a low-tech zero-gravity indicator, and cargo containers stowed under the ship’s four seats.
- The next time a Crew Dragon spacecraft reaches the station, a two-man team of NASA astronauts will be on-board, seeking to become the first people to fly into Earth orbit on a U.S.-built spacecraft since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
- The docking was a critical moment in the Crew Dragon’s six-day demonstration flight — named Demo-1 — which SpaceX and NASA designed to wring out the ship’s power, electrical, thermal control, navigation, life support, and docking systems, among other components necessary to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.
- It was also a crucial milestone for NASA’s efforts to shepherd commercial spaceflight development, a strategy first implemented with the agency’s funding of commercial cargo vehicles to deliver supplies to the space station, then expanded in the commercial crew program.
Crew Dragon's return flight to Earth
March 8, 2019: SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft has successfully completed a 6-day mission to the International Space Station and back. The spacecraft undocked from the ISS today at 02:32 EST (07:32 UTC) and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean almost 6 hours later at 08:45 EST.
NASA passed a major milestone on 8 March in its goal to restore America’s human spaceflight capability when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon returned to Earth after a five-day mission docked to the International Space Station. Crew Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean about 230 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX retrieved the spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and is transporting it back to port on the company’s recovery ship. 31)
“Today’s successful re-entry and recovery of the Crew Dragon capsule after its first mission to the International Space Station marked another important milestone in the future of human spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I want to once again congratulate the NASA and SpaceX teams on an incredible week. Our Commercial Crew Program is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I am proud of the great work that has been done to get us to this point.”
Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test designed to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission began March 2, when the Crew Dragon launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and racked up a number of “firsts” in less than a week.
- First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station.
- First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station.
- First autonomous docking of a U.S. spacecraft to the International Space Station.
- First use of a new, global design standard for the adapters that connect the space station and Crew Dragon, and also will be used for the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s future mission to the Moon.
NASA and SpaceX teams gathered in the early morning hours at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to follow the spacecraft’s return journey and ocean splashdown.
“We were all very excited to see re-entry, parachute and drogue deploy, main deploy, splashdown – everything happened just perfectly. It was right on time, the way that we expected it to be. It was beautiful,” said Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX.
Figure 21: The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undocks from the International Space Station on March 8, 2019 after nearly 5 days aboard the orbiting laboratory during the company’s Demo-1 mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and descends to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. Just over 5 hours later, the uncrewed spacecraft splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida and is recovered by SpaceX teams (video credit: NASA, Published on Mar 8, 2019)
Figure 22: Completing an end-to-end uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon departed the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST Friday, March 8, 2019, and splashed down at 8:45 a.m. in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 nautical miles off the Florida coast (image credit: NASA Television)
The following is a transcript of SpaceX Director of Crew Mission Management Benji Reed’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8: 32)
Figure 23: Benji Reed (far left), Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX (image credit: SpaceX, NASA)
To be honest, I’m shaking, and I’m super excited. It was an incredible journey to get to this moment. The teams have just done an amazing job, both the SpaceX and the NASA teams jointly. Fundamentally this is a great day for the nation, for SpaceX, for NASA, for all of us—really for the world.
I think it was Anne (McClain) who said this is the first time in 40 years that we’ve had a spacecraft designed for humans (test) fly, and not only did she fly and go to the space station and do everything she was supposed to do, but we brought her home safe and sound landing in the Atlantic. It’s amazing.
I can’t believe how well the whole mission has gone. I think on every point, everything’s been nailed, all the way along—particularly this last piece. We were all very excited to see re-entry and parachute and drogue deploy and main deploy, splashdown—everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to. It was beautiful.
As a team, SpaceX, we’re just super honored to have the opportunity to have done this mission, to work with NASA, to work through this. You know, Demo-1 is fundamentally this first major milestone in our process towards certification. I always like to remind everybody that this is a whole system—there’s Crew Dragon, there’s the Falcon that’s going to be certified to fly humans, there’s also the ground systems, the operations, our entire factory and production system—everything that we do is being certified to be able to fly astronauts safely, and this is a huge step towards that.
If you kind of look back over what happened over the last two days, which just seems incredible to me, really it’s the culmination of years of work to get us to this day. We had launch, Crew Dragon deployed, and we saw beautiful free flight. One of the things that’s hard to test when you’re on the ground is how fluids work in microgravity. And what’s amazing is everything worked just like we expected.
We got to station, docked, and, you know, it’s the first time I think in history a commercial vehicle and also an American vehicle has docked autonomously to the International Space Station, so that’s super cool. (Crew Dragon was) loaded with all kinds of sensors, all kinds of tests that we did. We all met Ripley, and she’s loaded with sensors so we can understand exactly all the forces that the crew will feel as they’re launched to station from home. We got to meet the little Earth guy (laughs); I heard he’s going to stay on station. Undocking, of course, some more free flight, and then we came home. We jettisoned the trunk, closed the nose cone, and then again, like I said, just beautiful parachute deployment, everything the way we expected. All of these tests that we’ve been doing on parachutes, all of the analysis that we’ve done on understanding the aerodynamics of re-entry and coming home. Everything was just wonderful.
The important thing now is we’re going to take all of this data and we’re going to apply that to the next steps. There’s a lot more to do because our ultimate goal is to be able to continue to staff space station, to provide astronauts rides up to space, give them a safe place to be, a safe place to come home in, and do crew rotations every six months. So how do we get there? So we finished Demo-1, huge milestone, the next step is we take that data, we apply it, we learn from it, and we’re going to go to our in-flight abort test, similar to that pad abort test that we did a few years ago. We actually will put the same Dragon that we flew on Demo-1, we’re going to take that and we’re going to put it on top of Falcon 9, launch it, get it going super fast to test conditions, and then escape it off of the rocket and again do the same thing, bring it home safely under parachutes, land it in the ocean.
From there, after we get that done, we go to Demo-2, and that’s kind of like, wow, that’s the big prize, because that’s going to be sending Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley)—our NASA astronauts, our partners, our friends—sending them up on Dragon and taking them to station safely and bringing them home safely.
When that’s done, we’ll go through final, full certification and start those six-month rotation missions, which we’re all so excited about.
It’s important to take a step back and think about all that it took to get here, all the work of all the joint teams—NASA and SpaceX—all the support that we’ve had from friends and family. Really, I think, the most important thing is that on behalf of all of the 6,000 people here at SpaceX, we really want to thank NASA, we want to thank the space station, the international partners, and thank the American public for their support and partnership as we go through this. We’re really proud to be part of this endeavor.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).