SpaceX to conduct first crewed launch in late May
On Friday April 17,2020, NASA and SpaceX announced that astronauts will launch from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years on SpaceX’s DM-2 mission in late May 2020.
On Friday April 17, NASA and SpaceX formally announced the confirmed date and time for Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 (DM-2) mission, the final flight to fully certify Dragon’s capability to to fly humans to low Earth orbit (LEO) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Liftoff is currently targeted for 4:32 p.m. EDT on May 27 onboard a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX’s historic launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The liftoff of DM-2 will mark the first time Americans have flown to space from American soil since the last flight of the Space Shuttle on July 8, 2011.
NASA astronauts and Space Shuttle veterans Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly to the International Space Station onboard Crew Dragon for an extended stay on orbit. The exact duration of the mission will be determined once on Station, and will largely depend on the readiness of the next Crew Dragon spacecraft. NASA ideally wants to keep a regular cadence of Americans occupying Station at any given point. As part of the requirements for NASA’s Commercial Crew contract, the operational Crew Dragon spacecraft is designed to have the capability of staying on orbit for 210 consecutive days. The test article spacecraft being used for DM-2 has the ability to stay parked on orbit for 110 days, though it is highly unlikely the mission will experience that type of duration.
Once on orbit, Behnken and Hurley will be performing a series of operational tests and checkout onboard the spacecraft to ensure that its myriad of automated functions are performing properly such as the onboard environmental system, as well as the spacecraft’s maneuvering thruster systems and cockpit displays. These functions will all be performed autonomously by the spacecraft, however the crew can take control at any time if it is not performing within its intended parameters. Within 24 hours of liftoff, Dragon will rendezvous with the International Space Station, where Hurley and Behnken will join members of Expedition 63 to conduct daily science experiments and tasks aboard Station.
A two-time spaceflight vetran, Astronaut Bob Behnken will act as joint operations commander for the mission. His primary role will be the oversight of rendezvous, docking, and undocking from the International Space Station, as well as performing necessary tests and activities while the spacecraft is docked to Station.
Acting as spacecraft commander for DM-2, Doug Hurley has also made two previous spaceflights, most notably as lead robotics operator for the final shuttle flight STS-135. Hurley’s responsibility will be the oversight of non-Station spacecraft functions including launch, landing, and recovery.
Once the mission onboard the ISS is complete, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock from Station and perform a series of burns to begin the re-entry process. Splashdown of the spacecraft is expected to take place just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean, where it will be met by the SpaceX recovery vessel GO Navigator to safely return it and its crew to Cape Canaveral.
In addition to paving the way for the continuous use of Crew Dragon to carry astronauts to and from the ISS, DM-2 hopes to instill inspiration to a Nation that has not seen human spaceflight in nearly ten years. On April 2, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted a picture of the Falcon 9 booster being used for the DM-2 flight. In addition to the traditional SpaceX logo that is used on every Falcon launch, the booster will also feature NASA’s classic “worm logo” last used by the space agency in the 1970’s. NASA hopes the use of the retro logo will help to regain the country’s excitement for spaceflight on American rockets from American soil
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.