SpaceX’s Crew Dragon edging closer to flight
To test a spacecraft for electromagnetic interference (EMI), it is placed in a special room designed for the task. SpaceX has done just that. Recently, company founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a picture of the Crew Dragon capsule being prepared for testing in an anechoic chamber.
The chamber, lined with radiation-absorbent material, is designed to isolate the subject from external radio frequencies so that electronic components can be tested in a greenfield environment, free—inasmuch as possible—from interference.
Once EMI testing is complete, the Crew Dragon and its service module is expected to be shipped to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. There it will be tested in environments that can simulate both the rigors of launch—complete with shaking and high acoustic loads—to the vacuum and thermal characteristics of deep space.
Also undergoing tests and simulations is the experience within the spacecraft itself.
NASA astronaut Suni Williams recently took part in a simulated mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at the company’s Hawthorne, California headquarters, during which she was outfitted in the SpaceX spacesuit. Over the course of the training, Williams interacted with the touch-sensitive displays comprising the vehicle’s control panel.
“One of the key parts of the Commercial Crew Program is the joint test team,” Williams said in a May 18, 2018, NASA news release. “So whenever the providers want to do a test requiring human interaction with their systems, the team gets together to understand the test parameters and go through the safety review process so no one gets hurt during the testing.”
The simulations are meant to test and validate the hardware, software, and procedures used on an actual flight.
“Really the whole mission, from pre-launch through docking and undocking, entry, landing and post-landing, all of those need to be verified in the simulator,” Mike Good, program manager assistant for Crew Operations and Testing at Johnson Space Center, said in the space agency’s news release. “So we’ll have our astronauts going through each flight phase making sure all the tasks they have to do meet our workload, usability and error-rate requirements.”
Good said NASA is also contributing by helping the commercial crew providers, which also includes Boeing and its CRS-100 Starliner spacecraft, complete their verification testing so that they can can close requirements and fly safely.
SpaceX is currently targeting its first uncrewed test flight for later in 2018. The first piloted Crew Dragon should fly sometime after, possibly in 2018—although that may slip to 2019 with NASA requiring the Block 5 iteration of the Falcon 9 to launch seven times before it is certified to ferry astronauts to space.
Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.