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Almost Ready: SpaceX has a job before Dragon is ready to take over the crew

This article originally appeared in the SpaceNews release of March 11, 2019.

Among the thousands of viewers who saw the launch of Falcon 9 on the first spacecraft Dragon from the Kennedy Space Center in the early morning hours of March 2 , few had a greater interest in the mission than Bob Benken and Doug Hurley. NASA's two veteran astronauts, with four shuttles between them, have been part of the program for commercial crews working with Boeing and SpaceX for the design and operation of their vehicles over the past few years.

This Demo-1 launches as they will be the crew of the next Crew Dragon mission, Demo-2, scheduled to take place in July. They followed the commissioning of the repaired Apollo-era control center at KSC, and then, 24 hours later, they were in control of the SpaceX mission at the headquarters of Hawthorne, California to observe the approach of the spacecraft to the International Space Station .

They had to like what they saw. The crew dragon did it in orbit after the seamless launch from KSC's historic 39A starter complex. The spacecraft approached the station one day later, without an incident with Harmony's station at about 1

5 minutes before the planning date.

"We have been following the process for several years at this stage," Behken said at a post-launch press conference in the SSC. "Seeing success like this definitely gives us a lot of confidence in the future." "It seemed that everything went smoothly," Hurley added. "From our point of view, this is what you want to see. You want to see that the team is going to take a step. "

  NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Benken, right, who are charged to fly to the crew's demo-2 mission, watch the release of SpaceX Falcon on March 2nd. a rocket carrying the space crew of Dragon's crew on Demo-1 mission at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Center. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Benken, right, who are assigned to fly to the crew's demo-2 mission, watch launching the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launcher, which carries the crew of company. Dragon spacecraft of the Demo-1 mission from the Kennedy Space Shuttle Control Center. Credit: NASA / Joel Kovsky </figcaption></figure>
<p>  The mission of Demo-1 ended on 8 March with a successful break from the ISS, and then, six hours later, from a break in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, SpaceX. The last phases of the mission seemed smooth as the rest of the flight. </p>
<p>  "I can not believe how well the mission has gone through," said Benji Reid, director of the missions management at SpaceX, an interview with NASA television shortly after a collision. </p>
<h3>  Even if recovery and after-flight inspections go as smoothly as starting and docking, it does not mean Crew Dragon is ready for Behnken and Hurley to get on board. Even before the launch, NASA officials said that before the flight to Demo-1, work had already been identified that had to be done before the agency could look at the astronaut's flights. </p>
<p>  "There are two guides" for this extra work, Kathy Loueders. , manager of NASA's program for commercial crews, said at a briefing before the launch. Part of this work involves systems that are not necessary for Demo-1 because there is no crew on board. The spacecraft, for example, did not have a full life support system, but rather a reduced version designed to collect test data. </p><div><script async src=

Another system that is not necessary for Demo-1 is the displays and interfaces of astronauts that fly with spacecraft to use. "You do not have to have crew interfaces unless Ripley will start flying on the vehicle," she said, referring to a manned ship aboard a spacecraft equipped with instruments to measure the environment the astronauts would experience on the spacecraft

Another work involves problems discovered during the Demo-1 spacecraft testing, which, though not enough to delay the launch, needs to be corrected before Demo-2. "The second piece is what we found over the last six to nine months that with the capsule done basically we apply this training to the Demo-2 vehicle," she said.

One such problem is with Draco's dragon's Dragon crew. During the thermal vacuum testing of the spacecraft, engineers found that under some circumstances temperatures could become low enough to freeze the fuel lines. "For the complete environment in which we expected this mission to function inside, Drakos does not like this environment. They have not worked so well in this environment, "Lueders said.

The Sokol 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon raises March 2 from the 39A Starter Complex at the Kennedy Space Center at 2:49 am East. Credit: SpaceX

The solution for Demo-1 is to limit the mission design to make it unlikely to cool the spacecraft long enough for the lines to freeze. This required launch only on days when the crew of the Dragon could reach the station within one day of the launch. If the March 2 launch was removed for meteorological or technical reasons, the next release window was not March 5. The permanent decision to be taken on Demo-2 and later on the Dragon Crew Spacecraft will be the installation of fuel line heaters

More crews of the Crew Dragon may be needed depending on the data analysis collected during the flight. "I would not be surprised if this happened," said Hans Koningman, BuildX vice president and SpaceX flight credibility. "This is a test flight, so we will learn things and gain experience with our subsystems."

A Balance against Safety Schedule

NASA's latest public-service schedule for Demo-2 calls for Demo-2 to be held no earlier than July, a month after a flight test of the Dragon Crew Terminator , using the same capsule that flown under Demo-1. Konigsmann said that even if there were changes to be made to the spacecraft, mission missions may still be possible this summer.

"There is really a lot of ingenuity here," he told NASA and SpaceX, citing the demo-1 mission profile change as an example. "If this is something like that, I would expect to find such an operational solution."

But NASA officials were not nearly as optimistic. Though they do not give specific dates, they suggest that this can happen later in the year before they are ready to put NASA astronauts into the Dragon crew.

  SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, left, NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Doug Hurley, Bob Benken NASA Administrator Jim Bridgestone and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins see the crew's access to the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, visible behind them during a Tour of the Launch Complex 39A before the start of Demo-1 mission early Saturday morning. Author: NASA / Joel Kovsky
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, left, NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Doug Hurley, Bob Benken, NASA Administrator Jim Bridgestone and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins have seen SpaceX Crew Dragon Spacecraft . seen behind them during a tour of Launch Complex 39A before Saturday morning's launch of Demo-1 mission. Credit: NASA / Joel Kovsky

Being at the launch of Demo-1 was exciting, says Pat Forrester, head of NASA's Astronaut Corps, "but it will be more exciting when we get back to Demo-2," he said . "Although much progress has been made, there is still much work to be done and we look forward to working as a SpaceX team to do it."

problems we work with, "writes Mark Gage, director of the Johnson Space Center. "We will start when we are ready, and it may be a bit, but none of them is overwhelming."

When NASA assigned the contracts for commercial crews in September 2014, the agency set itself the goal of having both CTR-100 Starliner crews of Dragon and Boeing certified to carry people by the end of 2017, a date that already has dropped two years from NASA's original schedule for the 2010 program. Even with the success of Demo-1, there is continuing doubt that none of the companies, Boeing's test flights, are one month behind SpaceX in NASA's public schedule – will be certified by the end of 2019

Such delays are endemic to major pro Ramie NASA's Space Telescope James Webb Space Telescope Space old system and Orion. However, a hindering factor is that NASA's access to Soyuz's seats will end at the end of this year, endangering his ability to maintain a US presence on the station.

On February 13, NASA issued a contract notice announcing the intention to buy two Soyuz locations from Roscosmos, the Russian state space corporation. One place will be on a mission in the autumn of this year, and the other – in the spring of 2020, which will ensure the station's presence in September, regardless of the status of the commercial crew program. The seats were made available, sources from the agency said, as Roscosmos did not plan to fill his team of three station staff, given the continuing delays with the release of new Russian modules. room. "What we do not want is for the teams to feel pressured to fly with these things when we are not ready," Guier said. "Buying these extra seats allows us to really make sure we have Americans aboard the space station."

Another possibility that NASA announced that she studied last year is to turn the Starliner test flight into a long mission – up to six months. (There are no plans for a Demo-2 mission to be stationed for no more than a month.) The three-man crew for this mission, including former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson who now works for Boeing, has undergone long-stay training [19659003] However, NASA Administrator Jim Brittenstein said before Demo-1 that NASA has not yet decided on the duration of this Boeing mission. "As we approach, we will be able to assess what the needs are and we will make determinations based on these needs," he said. "I do not currently have a timeline."

  SpaceX plans to reuse the Demo-1 Crew Dragon Capsule shown above in January for a flight crew flight test before the crew mission Demo-2 takes off, early July. SpaceX
SpaceX plans to re-use the Demo-1 Crew Dragon capsule shown above in January for a flight crew flight test before leaving the crew's Demo-2 mission not earlier than July. Credit: SpaceX

This decision to buy Soyuz places is a relief for the Air Safety Advisory Board. He warned of schedule pressure in his latest annual report, issued on February 8, and called on NASA and Congress to develop a "mitigation plan to ensure the continued presence of the US on the ISS while crew commercial vendors are not available. "

Many of the advanced finishing work" of both crew providers, Sandy Magnus, a former astronaut and member of the group, said at its last public meeting on March 7 in KSC. "We are not yet ready to put people in either of the two vehicles. We are pleased to see that NASA has taken steps to ensure the continuation of the US presence of the ISS, and this continues to mitigate any sense of timing. "

The Demo-2 team is ready to wait and fly only when the spaceship is ready. "I think they will admit that they have more work to do in the demo-2 field where we will be," said Behnken for SpaceX before the launch of Demo-1. "I think as a team we would all agree that we probably are not ready for the Demo-2 mission."

But with the Demo-1 mission now in the books, they are almost ready.

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