NASA, SpaceX clear crew capsule for launch next week – Spaceflight Now

Invoice Gerstenmaier, SpaceX’s vice chairman of construct and flight reliability, participates in a Flight Readiness Evaluate for the Crew-2 mission . Credit score: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA and SpaceX officers are shifting ahead with preparations to launch the subsequent industrial Crew Dragon mission to the Worldwide Area Station subsequent week after a Flight Readiness Evaluate Thursday, pending a ultimate analysis of a discovery by SpaceX that it has doubtlessly been loading barely extra propellant than anticipated into its Falcon 9 .

The preliminary “go” for launch clears the way in which for floor groups on the Kennedy Area Middle to roll out the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Endeavour to pad 39A for ultimate testing. Liftoff with 4 astronauts on SpaceX’s “Crew-2” mission is scheduled for six:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) subsequent Thursday, April 22.

The technical concern with how SpaceX masses oxygen into the Falcon 9 launcher is presumably minor. The difficulty, whether it is actual, has not impacted the rocket’s success price. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have amassed a string of 97 straight profitable launches since 2015.

Nonetheless, groups need to assess the difficulty earlier than continuing with plans for a test-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket for the subsequent NASA crew mission. Assuming managers put the difficulty to relaxation , SpaceX plans to load the rocket with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants early Saturday for a quick test-firing of the booster’s 9 Merlin foremost engines at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT).

The Flight Readiness Evaluate held Thursday on the Kennedy Area Middle allowed officers to debate the standing of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon capsule, the flight crew, the house station, and floor techniques.

“All people agreed to proceed towards flight, with us working to clear that one challenge,” mentioned Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human exploration and operations mission directorate.

Invoice Gerstenmaier, a longtime NASA engineer and supervisor who’s now SpaceX’s vice chairman of construct and flight reliability, mentioned found a doable challenge with how the corporate masses liquid oxygen into the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX groups detected the obvious challenge throughout testing in McGregor, Texas, the place the corporate checks out new Falcon 9 rockets earlier than supply to the launch web site.

“There’s one merchandise we nonetheless have to slightly extra work on,” Gerstenmaier mentioned Thursday. “In Texas, we found there was a possible loading error, the place we really could also be including slightly additional oxygen in our tank than regular. We’ve been doing that all through our flight historical past.”

SpaceX mentioned the liquid oxygen loading discovery with NASA officers throughout Thursday’s readiness assessment, however managers didn’t formally log out on clearing the priority.

“So simply to be additional sure, we took at an exception,” Gerstenmaier mentioned. “We’ll go work on that over the night tonight, and tomorrow morning we’ll get collectively as a workforce, go assessment that, and ensure we’re actually able to go fly and able to go do the static hearth.”

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is rotated for attachment to its Falcon 9 rocket April 13 in a hangar close to pad 39A on the Kennedy Area Middle in Florida. Credit score: SpaceX

Gerstenmaier mentioned engineers found the liquid oxygen discrepancy after dangerous climate interrupted a check of a Falcon 9 booster in Texas.

“We modified a few of the configuration, and that gave us some perception we don’t usually get, and we obtained to see that the quantity of oxidizer that we had loaded into the tank was slightly bit totally different than what we had analyzed it to be,” Gerstenmaier mentioned. “For the primary time, we noticed a small distinction in loaded oxidizer. Due to that distinction, we need to examine that some extra and have a look at the implications of what that would imply. This can be a configuration we’ve flown in for all our flights, so it’s not one thing new to us.”

Gerstenmaier characterised the difficulty as small. He mentioned the propellant stage within the Falcon 9 liquid oxygen tank was about Three to four inches totally different than SpaceX anticipated, however added that engineers have been “nonetheless finding out to see if it’s actually actual, and the precise magnitude.” the difficulty was solely discovered on the Falcon 9 first stage, in line with Gerstenmaier.

“I feel in a standard program, this quantity of various wouldn’t matter to anybody, however in our world we’re going to take the additional step, go assessment it, have a look at the implications, what occurs worst case,” he mentioned. “Is it an indicator of one thing much more critical? We’ll have these discussions, we’ll share all that information with NASA and be sure that we’re actually able to go to do what we have to go do for the static hearth arising.”

“Spaceflight, particularly human spaceflight, is just not tolerant of errors,” he mentioned.

The launch set for subsequent Thursday would be the first time astronauts on a Falcon 9 rocket with a reused first stage booster. The booster’s first flight in November launched the earlier Crew Dragon mission. The Falcon 9’s higher stage is new on every flight.

And SpaceX is reusing a previously-flown Crew Dragon spacecraft for the primary time with mission set for liftoff subsequent week. Groups at Cape Canaveral Area Power Station refurbished and upgraded the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft after it splashed down within the sea final August with two astronauts, concluding an illustration flight that cleared the way in which for normal SpaceX crew rotation missions.

“We needed to do in depth quantity of labor to take a look at each the Dragon for reuse, and likewise the Falcon 9,” mentioned Steve Stich, NASA’s industrial crew program supervisor. “We reviewed over 3,000 totally different merchandise that SpaceX offered us on that car. We had to take a look at how the construction would carry out with an extra flight on each automobiles. We went again and checked out all the necessities to verify they have been . We made certain that each one the hazards on Falcon 9 and Dragon have been managed.”

Practically half of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy missions have flown with reused boosters, all efficiently.

“It took about 10 months of intensive assessment,” Stich mentioned. “We obtained by means of it and we’re in posture.”

Stich mentioned not one of the 9 Merlin engines on the Falcon 9 first stage have been changed between the and Crew-2 launches, however technicians changed two turbine wheels contained in the liquid-fueled powerplants. The turbine wheels have blades that assist ship propellants into the engines.

Cracks in an earlier design of Merlin engine turbine wheels have been a priority earlier than NASA formally licensed the Falcon 9 for astronaut missions.

Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, and Akihiko Hoshide with the Falcon 9 booster that may carry them to house. Credit score: SpaceX

Stich mentioned SpaceX additionally changed one of many booster’s 4 touchdown legs after a tough landing on an offshore drone ship following the Crew-1 launch final November. SpaceX plans to get well the rocket once more after launch subsequent week.

On the Crew Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX beefed up the capsule’s structural shell to face up to rougher sea circumstances at splashdown. Floor groups additionally put in a brand new warmth defend and new parachutes.

There are additionally adjustments contained in the spacecraft’s propulsion to eradicate titanium, which brought about an of a check capsule throughout a floor check in 2019. There are additionally enhancements to batteries, thrusters, and software program on the Crew Dragon, all geared toward enhancing security, in line with Stich.

One other improve on the Crew Dragon Endeavour centered on increasing the capsule’s launch abort functionality. SpaceX modified {hardware} contained in the ship’s high-pressure abort propulsion system to extend the stream price from propellant tanks resulting in the capsule’s SuperDraco escape engines, which might push the Crew Dragon away from the Falcon 9 rocket in an emergency, both on the launch pad or in flight.

The additional oomph from the abort engines would permit the Crew Dragon to beat greater onshore winds and escape an emergency on the pad and propel itself offshore for splashdown simply off the coast

“So it offers us potential to make use of extra propellant in abort scenario, and what that extra propellant does it permit us to have greater onshore winds and nonetheless be capable of go forward and launch, and it offers us much more launch availability,” Gerstenmaier mentioned.

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide are. getting for launch April 22 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit score: SpaceX

NASA commander Shane Kimbrough, pilot Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Area Company mission specialist Thomas Pesquet are scheduled to fly from their coaching base in Houston to the Kennedy Area Middle on Friday for ultimate launch preparations.

After the static hearth check early Saturday, SpaceX will drain propellants from the Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for an additional countdown rehearsal Sunday, when the four-person crew will journey to pad 39A in Tesla SUVs to board the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft.

The dry run will familiarize the astronauts with their launch day timeline, which is able to see the crew get up late the night time earlier than launch and go well with up for his or her mission within the predawn hours earlier than heading to the pad.

A Launch Readiness Evaluate is deliberate Tuesday to debate any remaining unresolved points earlier than the launch simply earlier than dawn subsequent Thursday.

Assuming an on-time launch April 22, the Crew Dragon Endeavour is scheduled to dock with the station at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT) subsequent Friday, April 23. Kimbrough and his crewmates will spend about six months on the house station earlier than returning to Earth in late .

The Crew-2 astronauts will change Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Soichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker, who flew to the house station final 12 months on the Crew-1 mission. Hopkins’s crew is scheduled to return to Earth on April 28 aboard Crew Dragon Resilience for a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

In keeping with Stich, the Crew-2 mission has launch alternatives April 22 and April 23. Then the particularities of the house station’s orbit would preclude launch makes an attempt the subsequent two days. The subsequent out there launch dates can be April 26 and April 27.

If the Crew-2 launch is delayed by technical or climate points, NASA and SpaceX would Crew-1 mission’s return to protect a five-day handover between the crews on the house station, Stich mentioned.

The SpaceX crew rotation this month comes after the launch of two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut on a Soyuz spacecraft April 9 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. These crew members will change an outgoing Soyuz crew getting ready to depart the orbiting analysis lab Friday for a touchdown in Kazakhstan.

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Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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