Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

SpaceX and NASA made history in May by launching two astronauts — Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — into orbit aboard the privately developed Crew Dragon spacecraft.

After that highly successful two-month mission, SpaceX and NASA began reviewing data to ensure the actual flight was consistent with all of their simulations over the course of nearly a decade. In developing Crew Dragon, SpaceX said it has completed about 8 million hours of hardware-in-the-loop software testing, 700 tests of Dragon’s SuperDraco thrusters and nearly 100 tests and flights of Dragon’s parachutes among its many tests.

After all this work and two test flights, NASA formally completed certification of the Crew Dragon vehicle and its Falcon 9 rocket for manned spaceflight earlier this month. After a decade of wandering in the wilderness with no independent access to space following the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA is about to return to astronaut flight, thanks to this public-private partnership.

“Certification takes us from the design and testing phase to the crew rotation phase of our work,” said Kathy Lueders, chief of human spaceflight, after this certification process. “But we won’t stop to make sure every flight, including NASA’s Space Crew-1 mission, is approached with the same rigor we’ve put into making this the best system it can be for our astronauts.”

This process paves the way for SpaceX and NASA to conduct Crew Dragon’s first operational flight on Sunday. In the spacecraft they named ResistanceNASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with mission specialist Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will orbit the International Space Station for six months.

After the demonstration flight in May, SpaceX made two changes to Dragon. Hans Koenigsmann of SpaceX said there was a small area of ​​the heat shield where the erosion during reentry was slightly deeper than expected. This part of the heat shield has been made more robust. The company’s engineers also found that the barometric pressure sensor used to measure altitude during the parachute deployment sequence needed improvement. In addition, SpaceX had to fix a paint problem with the Merlin engines on its Falcon 9 rocket last month.

Finally, the company and NASA will work more closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to establish a 10-mile defense zone to ensure the recovery zone — the capsule will splash down off the coast of Florida, either into the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. Gulf of Mexico – is free from recreational boaters.

But now those technical problems seem solved and dusted. The first concern is the weather. SpaceX and NASA were originally targeted on Saturday, Nov. 14 for the Crew-1 mission launch. But late in the week, the proximity of Tropical Storm Eta delayed the departure of a drone ship to recover the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage. Because SpaceX and NASA plan to reuse this first stage for the Crew-2 mission next spring and the weather for Saturday night was uncertain, the launch was postponed to Sunday.

There’s no guarantee Sunday conditions will be great at the Kennedy Space Center launch site, nor below range at “breakdown sites” across the Atlantic, should Dragon have to throw itself off the Falcon 9 rocket in an emergency. The forecast for Sunday calls for a 50-50 chance of the launch to occur during the immediate period – 7:27 PM ET (Monday 00:27 UTC). If the launch attempt is scrapped, a backup option will be available on Wednesday.

The crew has already woken up this morning and will receive a final weather briefing at 3:12 PM local time today. The NASA webcast below starts at about the same time. If conditions look good enough, the crew will immediately don their suits and officially leave the operations and checkout building at 4:05 PM and head for the launch pad.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 Launch Webcast.

List image by Trevor Mahlmann for Ars

By akfire1

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