The four astronauts preparing to ride the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” went into orbit aboard their spaceship on Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in a launch training race to the planned International Space Station on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX managers have monitored deteriorating weather and sea conditions that could cause problems to recover the reusable Falcon 9 missile first-stage booster or the Crew Dragon itself in the event of an emergency during the flight.
NASA Commander Mike Hopkins, Pilot Victor Glover, Mission Specialist Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Sochi Noguchi wore black and white flight suits on Thursday and rode inside Tesla SUVs from the crew quarters to the Naval Launch Complex on Falcon 9.
They installed an elevator over the launch tower, walked through the crew’s access arm, and entered their Crew Dragon spacecraft over the 215-foot (63 m) Falcon 9 launch pad. Two hours later, the astronauts exited the capsule and returned to the crew quarters inside the Neil Armstrong Operations Building and logged off at Kennedy.
Engineers continued to evaluate data from a Falcon 9 missile test launch on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s launch readiness review, as SpaceX and NASA officials will decide whether to continue the launch attempt on Saturday at 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT Sunday). ).
There are no significant technical issues under discussion that lead to a review of readiness for launch, said Cathy Louders, associate director for NASA’s Directorate of Exploration and Human Operations.
“We’re clearly looking at the weather,” Lueders said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “The weather is a big problem, the weather is in multiple regions.”
Tropical Storm ETA moved across the northern Florida peninsula on Thursday, and was expected to head northeast to the Atlantic Ocean. By Saturday, the remnants of the hurricane are expected to be in eastern Canadian maritime provinces.
The Falcon 9 rocket will be heading northeast of the Florida Space Coast to line up with the space station’s orbital path.
Mission managers will track wind, waves, lightning and precipitation at more than 50 locations in the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the United States, eastern Canada and western Ireland. The Crew Dragon capsule can be aborted and scattered in those areas in the event of a launch failure, and rescue teams will be dispatched to retrieve the astronauts.
The weather forecast released Thursday for the chance to launch the Falcon 9 Saturday night shows a 70% probability of favorable conditions for takeoff at the Florida Spaceport. The main weather concern is cumulus clouds, according to the 45th Weather Squadron of the US Space Force.
The forecast does not take into account wind and wave conditions along the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s transatlantic ascent path, or the upper-level wind parameters for climbing a Falcon 9 through the atmosphere.
Lueders said SpaceX and NASA officials are also tracking the operation of a soccer field-sized unmanned ship that will be used to land the first stage of Falcon 9’s first phase promotion.
“The drone ship we need for the first stage of landing is already heading today,” Lawyers told Spaceflight Now. “Given the nature of the seas, and the way ETA is taking, we’re watching how fast the drone ship can go out … so we’ll also talk about that tomorrow in our launch readiness review, where exactly is it? Will it be possible to organize it in time? So we can release it on Saturday? ”
The launch will kick off Saturday evening with the Crew-1 mission, the first “operational” flight of astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Hopkins and his companions will spend six months living and working on the International Space Station, before boarding the Crew Dragon to return to Earth on parachute-assisted flight at sea.
The upcoming Crew Dragon launch, initially targeted on March 30, 2021, with a new space station crew of four will use the same reusable Falcon 9 augmented aircraft with the Crew-1 mission.
“It’s clear that landing in the weather for the first stage is important,” said Lauders. “This is the stage we’ll be using for Crew-2, so we care about it. Not that we never really care, but this is an important stage.”
Lueders said NASA has a backup missile available to launch Crew-2 in case SpaceX cannot land a Falcon 9 booster on the Crew-1 mission. If there is an issue with recovering a Crew-1 missile, NASA is considering launching a Crew-2 mission with a Falcon 9 booster, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanography satellite scheduled to launch later this month from California, Lueders said.
“We do have a backup in case something happens at this particular stage, but we’ve done all the inspections at this point,” said Lauders. We’ve got all the work done. We understand the hardware. So we really like to use this because it makes the job of Crew-2 easier.
“One of the things we’re looking for is using Sentinel-6 Booster because it boosts our eyesight as well,” said Lueders. “She’s going to have a ride on it. But … there’s another couple there. The nice thing about SpaceX is that there’s a bunch of devices that we can use.”
SpaceX’s unmanned “read instructions only” ship left Port Canaveral Thursday, bound for a location a few hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral.
“The second place we get worried about the weather … is launch weather,” Lueders said Thursday. “Then we have to watch the weather on the abortion path, so we’ll look at all of those when we review our readiness to launch review tomorrow, and then look at whether we’re going on the first day, going down the track to target a Saturday night launch, or whether we’re going to move to Sunday.” .
An opportunity to launch a backup is available at 7:27 PM EST (0027 GMT Monday).
Once the launch occurs, Crew Dragon will automatically fly a rendezvous profile to link to the space station, as Hopkins and his colleagues will join three other crew members who currently live and work on the space station.
NASA officials formally approved SpaceX Aviation for Astronauts during a two-day flight readiness review on Monday and Tuesday, capping a decade-long effort to design, develop and test the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the human Falcon 9 missile, and validate the SpaceX ground systems.
The test program culminated in a test flight of the Crew Dragon capsule earlier this year with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on board.
SpaceX test-fired a Falcon 9 missile Wednesday afternoon at Platform 39A, one day later than originally scheduled. SpaceX lowered the missile at platform 39A to replace the disinfection system components in the second stage.
Lauders said NASA and SpaceX returned the launch readiness review a day after the Falcon 9 test was delayed.
“So with this move from Tuesday to Wednesday, we decided to move LRR to Friday to make sure the team still had two days to go and wipe the data and make sure we were ready to go,” Lueders said.
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