NASA and SpaceX have set April 22 as the target date for the launch of Crew Dragon’s next flight to the International Space Station. The all-four-man veteran crew will be the first to fly a Falcon 9 accelerator and a reusable Dragon spacecraft, and a NASA official said this week that the launcher and capsule are in “really good shape.” repair packs up on Cape Canaveral.
Crew Dragon’s Endeavor spacecraft – the same capsule that flew to the space station last year with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Benken – is scheduled to blow up a Falcon 9 rocket from Substrate 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The launch time on April 22 is set for 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT), a NASA spokesman said.
NASA confirmed the launch date of Friday, April 22, a two-day delay from the previous launch date of April 20. NASA and SpaceX officials said earlier this week that the launch was likely to slip in “a few days” to allow for a more “optimized” trajectory to reach the space station after takeoff.
Assuming the Crew-2 mission is scheduled to take off on April 22, Crew Dragon will land on the space station around 7:05 a.m. EDT (1105 GMT) on April 23, a NASA spokesman told Spaceflight Now.
Veteran NASA astronaut Shane Kimbro will command the Crew-2 mission. Kimbro, who is making his third voyage into orbit, will be joined by Megan MacArthur’s second space flight, which will serve as a pilot on the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Peske will accompany Kimbro and MacArthur to the space station on a planned six-month expedition.
Hoshide and Pesquet will be on their third and second space missions, respectively.
SpaceX Canaveral technicians are updating the Falcon 9 booster and the Crew Dragon spacecraft in preparation for launch on April 22.
“I’m happy to say that most of the vehicle has been proven in flight,” said Benji Reed, senior director of human space flight programs at SpaceX, referring to the Crew Dragon spacecraft. “In this case, we change some valves, for example, we change part of the thermal protection system. On vehicles … we always fly with new parachutes. So some of them are new, but otherwise it is really the same vehicle that is very carefully inspected, carefully prepared, repaired if necessary and ready for flight. “
Steve Stitch, NASA crew’s commercial program manager, told a news conference Monday that the Crew-2 crew dragon will have “advanced capabilities” designed to make the spacecraft safer and more ready for dealing with rough seas and stronger winds.
“One of the improvements to this vehicle is the improved performance when the pad breaks,” said Stich. “The dragon is designed to be able to interrupt continuously from launch to launch into orbit. SpaceX came out and looked for a way to optimize their propulsion system and provide a little more propellant to break from the pad. “
“It did a few things,” Stitch said. “One thing, this has improved the safety of the crew if we get into such an unfortunate case of breaking the pad, where the crew has to leave the pad in an emergency. And second, it really improved the availability of the launch. We can deal with slightly stronger land winds and improve the availability of the launch. “
The Crew Dragon can break the pad in the event of a major problem with the Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad. The capsule would launch its SuperDraco interruptible engines to be propelled by the rocket and over the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida Marine Launch Complex, where the spacecraft will deploy parachutes and float right out to sea.
Interrupting the pad or interrupting a flight will help ensure that astronauts can avoid catastrophic rocket damage.
One technical problem that delayed the first flight of an astronaut on the Crew Dragon spacecraft involved the explosion of a test capsule in 2019 just before the launch of SuperDraco engines on Earth. The researchers found that the explosion was caused by an unexpected interaction of nitrogen tetroxide, one of the fuel engines used in SuperDraco engines, with a titanium valve in the high-pressure drive system. Stich said SpaceX has modified the propulsion system for the upcoming mission to make it safer.
“We learned a lot about titanium and nitrogen tetroxide, the oxidizer and that compatibility,” Stitch said. “We improved the SuperDraco engines and removed some titanium from this system and switched to stainless steel in them and improved the safety there.”
“I really see this flight as an improved interruption flight,” Stitch said. “If you step back and look at this flight, we improve the risk position for the vehicle by improving abortions, improving the ability to break the pad, eliminating titanium in the propulsion system, improving downward abortions by changing software. So overall … we continue to strive to reduce the risk in the program over time. “
NASA engineers on the SpaceX Dragon Upgrade Team at Cape Canaveral Space Station have been tracking the spacecraft’s preparations since its launch in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 2. with the space station.
Stich said a review of the spacecraft’s refurbishment last Friday showed that SpaceX and NASA were in “really good shape” with plans to reuse the Crew-2 mission capsule.
“When we go through this certification process, we really look at every part of the vehicle,” Stitch said. “There are new parachutes, a new heat shield, a new nose cone, new components and then we look at what we do during the renovation process … Overall, I don’t really see a high risk of re-use because we’ve gone through a methodical process and checked how the components are reinstalled. “
Kimbro said on Monday that Crew-2 astronauts would keep the name “Endeavor” for the spacecraft, discovered by Hurley and Benken, shortly after their launch last May.
Other modifications to the Crew Dragon Endeavor include strengthening the outer structure of the capsule to handle splashes in harsher sea conditions. The changes are aimed primarily at reducing the impact on the structure through “secondary spraying”, in which water can hit the spacecraft moments after parachuting into the ocean.
“If there is just the right combination of wave height, wind and vehicle speed when it enters, this secondary splash can hit quite hard,” Reed said. “So we did a lot to analyze about it and test for it, and what it does in the end is make the vehicle as strong as possible to withstand it, but you also watch the weather. So you create a lot of restrictions around the weather, around the wind speed and the height of the waves and all these different things that happen. “
But weather restrictions can limit the ability to take off and land crews.
“One of the things we’ve done is that we’ve actually improved parts of the structure so we can expand this window of opportunity to take the crew home, while keeping all that safety and all that reserve for the crew,” Reed said. “I think this is a really important update we made for this particular Dragon. From now on, this will always be part of the design. “
Reed said SpaceX took the time to upgrade the Crew Dragon between last year’s test flight and Crew-2. mission. “As we go through this process, we learn what needs to be completely replaced, where we need to inspect more thoroughly, what things need to be done in the future.”
SpaceX ultimately wants to shorten the renewal period to “several months,” according to Reed. Locating repairs near the Cape Canaveral launch site, rather than at the SpaceX factory in California or the test facility in Central Texas, is helping to streamline the process.
“The golden key to entering this new space age is to reuse and reuse vehicles,” Reed said.
The training of the crew for the next launch of Dragon will be completed soon. Kimbro and his crew will travel to the Florida launch base later this month and crawl into their spacecraft for final inspections, then return to Florida in mid-April for final rehearsals before takeoff on April 22.
The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, which has currently arrived at the space station, will move to another port in the orbital complex in late March or early April, freeing the front port of the station for the arrival of the Crew-2 astronauts. Crew-1 astronauts, who boarded the Resilience spacecraft in November, will board the spacecraft for the automatic maneuver.
Following the arrival of the Crew-2 mission next month, the space station will temporarily have 11 astronauts on board. After a week-long broadcast, Crew-1 commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Soichi Noguchi and Shannon Walker will leave the space station in late April or early May and go skating off the coast of Florida, concluding five half a month flight into orbit.
NASA and SpaceX want the Crew-1 mission to return to Earth before May 9, when the space station’s orbit would only provide opportunities for a Crew Dragon night landing.
The launch of Crew-2 will reuse the same booster Falcon 9, restored after the launch of Crew-1 in November.
April is a busy month for the rotation of the space station crew. Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan on April 9 with two Russian astronauts and a NASA astronaut to replace the Soyuz crew, which has been at the station since October. The outgoing Union will disengage and land back in Kazakhstan on April 17.
“We’re excited and ready to go,” Reed said. “Obviously we keep checking all the boxes, triple checks under all the rocks and everywhere to make sure we’re ready to manage this crew. And as we always say, we will not fly until we are ready. “
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