Monday , August 15 2022

SpaceX gets NASA right to launch a new spacecraft on a non-crew test flight


Officially: the last trip of SpaceX's new Passenger Capsule, the Dragon Crew, will be launched on March 2 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA and SpaceX agreed to move with the flight today after a full day of reviews, deciding that the vehicle was ready to see space and travel to the International Space Station. If the capsule successfully makes an orbit, SpaceX will be an essential step closer to putting the people first on board its space ship.

This tour, of the Display Mission 1 or DM-1, is an important milestone for the NASA Commercial Crew program, an initiative to send NASA astronomers to the International Space Station on board private vehicles. Since the Shuttle program ends, NASA has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to and from the low Earth's orbit – an expensive arrangement that restricted the type of trips that NASA could run. But soon, the US fighter could be launched on US-made vehicles once again, as NASA did during the Shuttle period.

For the program, SpaceX and Boeing's competitive company have been developing new capsules to transport NASA astronauts into and from the low Earth Earth's underground. NASA wants both companies to send these vehicles to space first, empty, before putting people on board. The Boeing, the CST-100 Starliner, is being blown for the first time in April. But Dragon Crew SpaceX has been in Cape Canaveral since December, ready to fly. SpaceX has even experienced the machines on the Falcon 9 rocket that it intends to use to carry the capsule to orbit. The company only needed NASA approval to make it happen.

NASA set definitively on December 2nd a few weeks ago, and now that the right has been given, SpaceX is just a week away from the big flight. The flight capsule is expected at 2:48 AM ET from NASA Kennedy Space Space Center in Florida – an early morning launch time specified by an International Space Station site in orbit. If the Dragon Crew goes off the ground then it will remain an orbit until the start of the morning on Sunday and then try to automatically tackle the space station. He will then stay in the ISS for a week before ending early in the morning and return to Earth to trigger down in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket with the first Dragon Crew Capsule on the board
Image: SpaceX

The flight is a short one compared to the monthly journeys that crew space ships could be expected to complete. But hopefully NASA and SpaceX will give critical data about how the Crew Dragon is still in space – and whether it's ready to transport passengers or not. "This vehicle, inside, has a lot of instrumentation," said Kathy Lueders, during a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center today. "We have many images of the vehicle as they come back." The capsule will be weighted in the same way as Criw Drag when he has an astronauter on board, and will also carry fake tests, after adjusting it into a SpaceX custom flight suits.

NASA representatives emphasized that they were still taking this test seriously, although it was short. Dragon Crew will reach the International Space Station, which currently has three people, and NASA wants to ensure that those crew members are not at risk when the capsule arrives there. "Fly a test, but it's more than a flying test," said Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate server for NASA's human space lighting program during a press conference. "There is a mission to the International Space Station."

In fact, NASA's international partner Roscosmos, expressed concern about Dragon Crew software that he uses when he goes to the International Space Station. However, Gerstenmaier says he intends to continue with Roscosmos this week to ensure that they are in conjunction with the procedure. "I do not think it will be a problem after we go through the details of why it's safe, and we can explain why we will move on," he said.

However, Gerstenmaier noted that the journey was still at risk, as this will be the first launch of this vehicle. "I can fully expect that we're going to learn something on this trip," he said. "I guarantee that everything will not work really, and that's cool. That's exactly what we want to do."

Dragon Crew SpaceX inside the company hangar in Cape Canaveral
Image: SpaceX

DM-1 will also give NASA and SpaceX an opportunity to evaluate some systems on Dragon Crew that are not yet ready to support passenger trips. One of these is the capsule parachute, which is used to lower the capsule lightly to the water when it returns from space. SpaceX says it has done 17 tests on the parachute systems to date, but NASA is still in the process of certifying hardware for future crew trips.

If DM-1 does not take place on March 2, NASA has the option to fly either on March 5th, 8th, or 9th. Those days work best, as it will allow Dragon Crew to return to Earth during the day, giving NASA a better look at the parachute. If DM-1 is postponed somehow past 9th, then it will have to wait a little longer since the upcoming Russia Soyuz mission will take precedence – one that carries a new crew.

After this test trip has been completed then SpaceX is asked to make another flight test with the Dragon Crew in April, one that will try the vehicle's abortion system. It is intended to use this defective feature in case something is wrong with the rocket during the trip and the Dragon Crew needs to go to safety. During the test, stimulates incorporated into the Dragon Crew's dog will be a fire, carrying the capsule away from the rocket. There is a procedure similar to the emergency abortion system on the Soyuz Russian rocket board, which rescued two astronauts during a bottle flight in October.

If that test goes well, it may be time for the first crew of the Dragon Crew board. When that crew fly takes place, it will not yet be decided – a recent report by Reuters he noted that there were still many technical items that NASA needs to review first before the agency set up vehicles flying on either Boeing or SpaceX vehicles. NASA today accepted that the Dragon Crew, in its current form, is not yet ready for crew nations.

But the adverse flight test will at least prepare the first flight flight to take place. "I'll tell you, I'm ready to fly now," said Lueders.

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