NASA astronauts stand behind SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft
HAWTHORNE, Calif. — SpaceX has made strides in having their Crew Dragon spacecraft transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). One of the crown jewels in the NewSpace firm’s efforts was highlighted on Monday Aug. 13. However, the company was not alone in marking the progress SpaceX has made toward sending crews to low-Earth orbit.
The astronauts tasked with flying Crew Dragon’s first missions stood shoulder-to-shoulder with SpaceX and expressed confidence that Crew Dragon will be a reliable source of transportation to the orbiting lab. The innovation that SpaceX has demonstrated, drew praise from the head of NASA.
“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine via an agency-issued release. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”
Nothing drives a geek crazy like a sharp dressed…astronaut
Given the crewed nature of this new vehicle’s mission, perhaps one of the more prominent elements on display in Hawthorne, was the spacesuit that astronauts will wear when they ride the Falcon 9’s (the rocket tasked with launching the spacecraft) fire to orbit. The grey elements of the suit are made of Nomex, whereas the white portions are made from PTFE (a fiberglass fabric). Grounding the ensemble are flame resistant leather boots. The suit’s gloves are custom made and designed to help with pressurized mobility. The helmet reflects yet another use of modern technology – it is produced by additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing.
The suit’s components are designed to stay connected so that nothing can get lost in the zero g environment of space. All of the suit’s electrical and life support connections will be situated on the suits right thigh. Testing of Crew Dragon will also review how astronauts can perform with the suits being pressurized.
The magical Dragon
Crew Dragon incorporates four thruster pods – each of which sport two SuperDraco engines. Like so much of what SpaceX designs, builds and uses – the SuperDraco is also meant to be reused.
Crew Dragon’s seats come in three sizes with different arm and foot rests. The foam incorporated into these – is customized for astronauts
If everything goes as it is currently planned, Crew Dragon will remain at the station for about six months (for long duration missions).
Elon Musk chose to name the spacecraft after the “Puff the Magic Dragon” song character. The naming of the vehicle was a flippant response to critics who stated that Musk was “high” if he thought it would work (according to a June 17, 2018 post on Twitter).
Initially propulsive landings had been selected to land Crew Dragon. However, this plan was altered with the company planning on using parachutes instead.
Simulations reflecting reality
Crew Dragon’s cockpit simulator utilizes the same controls as the flight article of the spacecraft. There are three independent touchscreens within the simulator’s interior. One of these provides orbital parameters / worldview. The second gives a forward view and allows crews to monitor where the ISS and other objects in space, including the Sun, are located. It also provides data concerning attitude rates and the spacecraft’s thrusters. The final touchscreen can show information on either of the two others.
While Mission Control will be monitoring from the ground – everything is automated including docking. Each of the spacecraft comes equipped with triple redundant computers.
If need be, crews can take over control of Crew Dragon manually.
The Crew Training Simulator comes with a complete hookup for life support and communications systems. It is designed to simulate an operational mission – minus g forces as well as weightlessness.
In terms of the design of the spacecraft – the simulator could also help engineers to customize fit checks. This process would almost certainly continue through the first flights of the capsule – and beyond.
SpaceX’s training program is starting to accelerate with the astronauts moving beyond familiarization with the spacecraft’s design and components – toward preparing them for Crew Dragon’s first flights. At present the astronauts have been working through roughly four hour-long training sessions. The time of these simulations will vary based on the phasing of the space station. The quartet of space flyers have conducted simulations for specific phases of upcoming flights. The astronaut’s training regime has not yet been publicly released.
The chosen few – that could lead to many
The astronauts tapped to fly the spacecraft’s initial flights, Robert Behnken, Doug Hurley (test flight), Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins (first flight) were on hand during Monday’s event.
The story so far…
On May 6, 2015, SpaceX successfully completed a pad abort test. This was quickly followed that November by a hovering test conducted at SpaceX’s facilities located in McGregor, Texas. In a further display of the reusable nature of their products both tests were carried out by the same test article of the spacecraft.
At present, SpaceX is working to carry out an uncrewed test flight in November of this year (2018). This should be followed by an in-flight abort test – which will use the same Crew Dragon spacecraft tasked with the uncrewed test. If things continue apace – the first Crew Dragon spacecraft, with astronauts on board, could fly as early as April of 2019.
The other service provider under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing, announced that its CST-100 “Starliner” test schedule would slip by an additional eight months due to a leak in one of the engines built to conduct the pad abort test having leaked hypergolic propellant. The problem appears to have been caused by a defective valve produced by Aerojet Rocketdyne. According to a report drafted by Space News’ Jeff Foust, Boeing hopes to catch up with SpaceX in the Spring of 2019.
SpaceX was awarded $2.6 billion to ferry astronauts to-and-from the space station, with Boeing receiving $4.6 billion. For NASA’s part, it is money well spent as it will mean the return of a lost capability – the ability to launch astronauts on its own.
“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.”
Matthew Kuhns is an aerospace engineer living in California and enjoys capturing the beauty of the aerospace world with his camera. As an engineer he specializes in fuel & propulsion systems and as a photographer his internationally award-winning images are published in magazines and books. Kuhns was introduced to the founder of SpaceFlight Insider during the pre launch activities for SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission and was promptly brought on to the team as SFI’s California photographer.