SpaceX transferred the first astronaut-ready Crew Dragon spacecraft Friday night from a fueling facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where teams will join the capsule with its Falcon 9 launcher for liftoff later this month.
The spacecraft arrived at the pad 39A hangar late Friday night, according to Kyle Herring, a NASA spokesperson.
Before its transport by road to the Falcon 9 hangar, the Crew Dragon capsule’s propulsion system was loaded with hypergolic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants inside a fueling complex a few miles south of pad 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The propellants will feed the Crew Dragon’s Draco in-space maneuvering thrusters and high-performance SuperDraco escape engines, which would only be activated in the event of an emergency during launch.
Liftoff of the Crew Dragon test flight — the first U.S. mission to send astronauts to Earth orbit since 2011 — remains scheduled for May 27 at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) to kick off a 19-hour pursuit of the International Space Station.
In the coming days, SpaceX ground crews will verify mechanical and electrical attachments between the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 launcher inside the hangar. Then the entire vehicle, measuring some 215 feet (65 meters) tip to tail, will be lifted by a crane and placed onto SpaceX’s rocket transporter for the quarter-mile journey up the ramp to the deck of pad 39A.
The Falcon 9 launcher assigned to the Crew Dragon’s first piloted test flight — designated Demo-2 or DM-2 — is an all-new vehicle. SpaceX regularly lands and reuses rocket boosters to cut costs, but NASA has required SpaceX to assign new first stages to at least the initial launches that carry astronauts.
The first stage booster for the Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission is emblazoned with NASA’s “worm” logo, which spells out “NASA” in stylized lettering. The worm logo was introduced in 1975 to add a touch of modernity to the agency’s public image after the last of NASA’s Apollo moon landings, which took place when NASA used its original blue “meatball” symbol.
The worm logo was retired in 1992, and NASA removed the iconic interconnected lettering from signs, brochures, and even the agency’s space shuttles. The original meatball, first designed in the late 1950s, again became NASA’s official logo.
“The worm is back,” NASA announced last month. “And just in time to mark the return of human spaceflight on American rockets from American soil.”
In a statement, NASA said “the retro, modern design of the agency’s (worm) logo will help capture the excitement of a new, modern era of human spaceflight.”
The memorable worm insignia — with its stark red logotype — will make its first public appearance on a NASA-sponsored rocket in nearly 30 years when the Falcon 9 launcher emerges from the hangar next week and rolls out to pad 39A.
Once the vehicle is vertical on the launch pad, SpaceX will run the Falcon 9 rocket through a fueling test and a test-firing of its Merlin main engines next week.
At the same time ground teams work on flight hardware at Cape Canaveral, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are in quarantine at their homes in Houston before they travel to the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday aboard a NASA Gulfstream jet.
The astronauts are both veterans of two space shuttle flights, and they started working full time on NASA’s commercial crew program in 2015. In 2018, NASA assigned Hurley and Behnken to the Crew Dragon’s first flight with astronauts.
After arriving at the spaceport in Florida on May 20, the astronauts will receive mission briefings, brush up on procedures, and perform fit checks with their SpaceX-made launch and entry flight suits. They are also scheduled to take questions from reporters in a press conference Wednesday at Kennedy soon after they arrive in Florida, then in a virtual news briefing Friday, May 22.
If activities next week go according to plan, the astronauts will run through a launch day dress rehearsal next Saturday, May 23.
The two-man crew will suit up and ride inside a Tesla Model X from the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy to launch pad 39A, where they will ride an elevator to the 265-foot-level of the pad’s fixed tower. They will then walk across SpaceX’s crew access arm to the white room, where a closeout team will help them board the capsule.
Hurley, the 53-year-old Dragon spacecraft commander, will strap into the left seat of the capsule. Behnken, 49, will take his place in the right seat for the pre-launch simulation.
The “dry dress rehearsal” is meant to give the astronauts and their support teams a feel for the flow of launch day.
Amid the hardware preps and crew activities, NASA and SpaceX managers plan to convene a pair of major reviews before the Crew Dragon launch to ensure the spacecraft, the rocket, the astronauts, ground systems and the International Space Station are ready for the test flight.
A Flight Readiness Review is scheduled May 21, followed by a Launch Readiness Review May 25.
“There’s still work to be done,” said Phil McAlister, head of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development mission. “We’re still finishing up some final testing. There’s still some documents we have to review.”
“The Flight Readiness Review on the 21st is a very big milestone,” McAlister said Thursday in a briefing to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee. “That’s going to be when we we all get together one last time and say whether we are ready for flight. So that will be a huge, huge milestone.”
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Watch SpaceX launch its latest batch of Starlink satellites, including one with a sun visor – TechCrunch
SpaceX just launched its most important and historic launch ever this past weekend, flying NASA astronauts for the first time – on Wednesday, it’s set to follow that up with a less significant Falcon 9 rocket launch, but one that’s still vital to the company’s future. This mission is the latest of SpaceX’s Starlink launches, which the company is using to put up a vast network of small satellites to provide low-cost, high-bandwidth internet access to customers globally.
SpaceX’s Starlink mission today has a launch window of 9:25 PM EDT (6:25 PM PDT) and includes a payload of 60 more satellites for the constellation, which already has 420 operating in low Earth orbit. The goal is ultimately to launch as many as 40,000 or of these small satellites in order to blanket the globe with connectivity that’s broadly available, and that provides rock solid network consistency by handing off connections among the satellites as they make their way around the Earth.
This launch was originally scheduled to fly the week prior to SpaceX’s Demo-2 crewed mission, which carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on Saturday and Sunday, but was bumped due to a scheduling conflict with a ULA launch, and then further postponed until after the astronaut flight. It’s still already the fifth batch of 60 Starlink satellites that SpaceX has flown in 2020. In total, SpaceX is hoping for up to two dozen Starlink launches in total before year’s end, which will help it meet its goal of launching an initial beta service in Canada and the U.S. later this year, with a more global rollout following in 2021 or 2022.
This launch will take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and will use a Falcon 9 first stage that flew previously on four previous missions. SpaceX will attempt to recover the booster again through a controlled landing, and will also try to catch the fairing halves used to protect the satellite cargo using its ‘Ms. Tree’ and ‘Ms. Chief’ ships.
One key novel element for this flight is the test of a new technology SpaceX is hoping will help mitigate the impact of the Starlink constellation on night sky observation from Earth. Scientists have complained that Starlink is bright enough to interfere with sensitive optical instrumentation used to gather data deep space bodies and phenomena. To address that, SpaceX has designed a deployable ‘visor’ system which extends from Starlink satellites post-launch and attempts to block sunlight reflecting off of their communications arrays.
SpaceX has equipped one of the 60 satellites on this launch with that system, as way of testing its efficacy before making it a standard part of the Starlink satellite build going forward. Depending on results, it could become a permanent fixture on all SpaceX’s Starlink spacecraft for future missions.
Should today’s launch be delayed (weather is currently looking around 60% favorable for the mission), there’s a backup opportunity tomorrow, June 4 at 9:03 PM EDT (6:03 PM PDT).
Why a rocket launch can’t unite us right now – The Verge
At 9:30AM ET on Tuesday, three American astronauts symbolically rang the Nasdaq opening bell from space — a celebration of SpaceX’s historic launch that sent astronauts into orbit three days prior. The short ceremony played out live on the Nasdaq’s giant screen in Times Square, with various NASA personnel clapping as one astronaut clanged a bell on the International Space Station.
The video glowed over the same streets where, in the days and nights before, thousands of demonstrators had gathered nearby to protest systemic racism and police brutality against black Americans.
This kind of cognitive dissonance has permeated SpaceX’s first passenger flight — the first time that NASA astronauts have launched from the US in nearly a decade. NASA has been waiting for this moment since the last Space Shuttle landed in 2011, and now the agency wants to celebrate. It wants the United States and the world to celebrate, too. But if the space community expects the world to care about the things we do in space, there must be an acknowledgment of how broken things are on the ground and the injustices that still exist in the United States.
That might mean passing up the chance to ring the bell on Wall Street while the economy remains in tatters. It might mean a compassionate statement from the crew addressing the people on the Earth below, instead of answering rote questions from dignitaries and press.
There are eerie echoes between this SpaceX launch and Apollo 8, as others have pointed out. That mission, the first to reach the vicinity of the Moon, launched in 1968, a year that mirrors 2020 in its apocalyptic bleakness. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. had sparked protests throughout the country. Space enthusiasts like to look back on that mission with rose-colored glasses, as something that served as a shining beacon of hope during a tough time for the country.
But as others have pointed out, Apollo 8 didn’t fix the turmoil of the time. Just look at where we stand today. Likewise, SpaceX’s launch did not unite the country or the world, though NASA certainly tried to make that claim. “This was an amazing moment of unity for the nation,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a call with the astronauts after the launch. “It was an amazing moment for the whole world to look out in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges. We’re able to have very, very special moments where we can all look at the future and say that things are going to be brighter tomorrow than they are today.”
If only it were that simple. The problem that NASA and the space community doesn’t often understand is that spaceflight still isn’t inclusive. These launches may be fun and emotional to watch, but they don’t always feel like they’re for everyone. Space is still an exclusive and expensive domain, and the people who are in charge of this industry are still predominately male and white. The idea that a launch could bring the public together during a time when widespread racism and injustice are at the forefront of people’s minds is naive at best.
To be fair to NASA, Bridenstine acknowledged that an important space launch couldn’t “fix” the world. “Look, I think what NASA does is astonishing. It’s impressive, and it does bring people together,” he said. “If the expectation was that things on the ground were going to change because we launched a rocket, I think maybe the expectation might have been a little high.” He then proceeded to talk about just how many people tuned into NASA and SpaceX’s launch coverage over the weekend.
Those numbers are just not important right now. Yes, the launch must have been a small bright moment for people who turned their attention to a rocket soaring into space for one brief moment this weekend. But if the space community wants to really have a uniting effect on the world, it must be deeply rooted in the happenings of Earth. And the space world seems to exist in a bubble where these things just don’t have an effect.
While NASA acknowledged the problems going on down on the surface throughout the SpaceX launch, the statements didn’t stray much from touting the idea that this launch was a beacon of hope for the world during a difficult time. Meanwhile, the industry has mostly sheltered in its celebratory bubble. While many other major industries have issued a flurry of statements addressing the protests, the giants of the spaceflight industry remained silent.
Instead, compassionate demands for change have been left to individuals in the spaceflight world, including former astronauts.
“It is not this mission that will bring us together but the individual people following it who step forward to lock arms with people we don’t know but must learn to trust,” former astronaut and former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said on Twitter.
“Today demands we take pride not only in reaching the sky, but also sustained heights of decency, truth, compassion and justice for all, now!” former astronaut Mae Jemison said on Twitter.
“America let’s get our crap together,” former astronaut Leland Melvin said during a Facebook video. “This is unsatisfactory. We’ve got to stop this. And it’s going to be the good people that do nothing now that start doing something to stamp this hatred, evil, and racism out.”
Even if the space industry were to come out with a unified statement, from the outside, it feels like it’s more or less business as usual within the space world. NASA and space companies continue to move forward with many of the same things they had planned, such as handing out contracts for major programs, making major announcements, and launching vehicles. But the times are anything but business as usual. If the space community wants to unite people, then it must make people feel like they are part of space, and that means being conscious of where people’s lives are on the ground. It means committing to fix the wrongs in our society while also building vehicles to break the bonds of gravity.
Only then will people feel like they can come together to wonder in our journey toward the stars.
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