SpaceX’s first rocket built for humans test-fired in Texas

The Falcon 9 booster assigned to launch two NASA astronauts on an orbital test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule has been test-fired in Texas, …
The first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was test-fired Aug. 29 at the company’s test site in McGregor, Texas. The booster will launch NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 booster assigned to launch two NASA astronauts on an orbital test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule has been test-fired in Texas, but the schedule for the long-awaited mission remains unclear.

SpaceX announced the static fire test of the Falcon 9’s first stage in a tweet Aug. 29.

The launch vehicle’s nine Merlin 1D first stage engines ignited on a test stand at SpaceX’s test site in McGregor, Texas, for a hold-down firing before the booster is shipped to Cape Canaveral for final launch preparations.

The 15-story booster produces some 1.7 million pounds of thrust from its nine Merlin engines, which consume super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants. During launch, the first stage burns for around two-and-a-half minutes.

The Falcon 9 first stage slated to launch SpaceX’s first piloted Crew Dragon test flight is fresh from the company’s factory in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX is expected to recover the booster aboard an offshore drone ship following the mission’s liftoff from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Crew Dragon demonstration flight will mark the third space mission for both Behnken and Hurley.

The test flight will be SpaceX’s first crewed mission, and will lay the groundwork for regular crew rotation flights using the upgraded Dragon spaceship to ferry astronauts between Earth and the space station.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley pose in their SpaceX spacesuits during a joint training exercise in July inside the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

While preparations of the Falcon 9 launcher appear on track for the Crew Dragon’s first piloted test flight later this year, SpaceX continues working to overcome a setback in April when the company’s first space-worthy Crew Dragon capsule exploded during a ground test at Cape Canaveral.

The explosion destroyed the Crew Dragon spacecraft that flew on the Demo-1 mission to the space station March. Demo-1 was an unpiloted test flight, and Behnken and Hurley’s mission is designated Demo-2.

In response to the accident, SpaceX has moved forward Crew Dragon vehicles coming off the company’s assembly line in Southern California. The vehicle originally built for Behnken and Hurley will now fly on an atmospheric launch abort test to prove the Crew Dragon’s ability to escape an in-flight rocket failure.

SpaceX will now use the third flight-ready Crew Dragon for the Demo-2 mission with Behnken and Hurley.

Engineers believe a leak of propellant inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s propulsion system — caused by a faulty check valve — led to the Crew Dragons explosion April 20. No one was injured in the accident.

SpaceX is replacing check valves inside the abort propulsion system on future Crew Dragon vehicles to prevent similar leaks from occurring in the future. Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said last month that the company plans to conduct the in-flight abort test in the October or November timeframe, followed by the orbital demo flight with Behnken and Hurley “hopefully this year.”

Boeing, NASA’s other commercial crew contractor, has not yet flown its Starliner crew capsule in space. A Starliner test flight to the space station without astronauts aboard is scheduled some time before the end of the year, and will lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

A Crew Flight Test of the Starliner capsule will follow the unpiloted test flight, but Boeing’s schedules remain just as murky as SpaceX’s.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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International Space Station Gets Ready to Dock SpaceX Crew Dragon

SpaceX succeeded with its “Demo-1” unmanned test launch in March 2019, which contained 400 pounds of cargo and a dummy suit which collected …

On Wednesday, NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan took a six-and-a-half-hour stroll into space around the International Space Station in order to install the final international docking adaptor, needed to enable SpaceX and others to dock their space capsules to the space station and begin to move their actual crews to the ISS and then back home to Earth.

Since the United States’shuttle program came to an end in 2011, NASA has been hitchhiking rides on Russian Soyuz rockets that take off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. These trips cost $81 million per passenger.

The challenge for NASA is that the contract with Roscosmos expires in September 2020, so SpaceX is trying to make sure its Crew Dragon capsule is ready to go. At the same time Boeing is working on its CST-100 Starliner.

SpaceX succeeded with its “Demo-1” unmanned test launch in March 2019, which contained 400 pounds of cargo and a dummy suit which collected data.

The international docking adaptor is designed to support the international docking standard.

The adaptor is meant to be a more long-term solution in order to get capsules to join with the pressurized mating adaptor. It could not only support commercial spacecraft, but international crafts from other countries.

The first adaptor was connected in 2016 and Hague and Morgan attached the second of the two adaptors earlier this week.

The Government Accountability Office has stated that “both contractors have run into chronic delays,” requesting that the agency to come up with a plan B in case more delays come from SpaceX and Boeing.

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NASA Rehearses Astronaut Launch — and Rescue — with SpaceX, Boeing (Photos)

Both SpaceX and Boeing are busily preparing for the first crewed launches of their commercial spacecraft, and in case something goes wrong, they’re …

Both SpaceX and Boeing are busily preparing for the first crewed launches of their commercial spacecraft, and in case something goes wrong, they’re simulating different types of emergencies.

The companies are contracted under NASA to provide commercial crew spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to supplement the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that is currently used for all ISS launches, which blast off from a facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The first commercial crew astronauts will fly late this year or sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan. SpaceX and Boeing will each launch their spacecraft from Florida, marking the first time American astronauts have launched from their home country since the last space shuttle mission in 2011.

SpaceX and NASA geared up for the first launch of a Crew Dragon with astronauts aboard with a dress rehearsal of launch day — including simulated emergencies. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will fly the first Crew Dragon mission, practiced suiting up in a SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California, with SpaceX’s ground closeout team. The NASA and SpaceX teams did a simulated launch countdown, as well as several emergency launch scenarios, which is common practice for all astronauts preparing for spaceflight.

Related: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 Test Flight in Pictures

Some of Boeing’s first CST-100 Starliner crew also conducted emergency launch scenarios at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, who will be on the first Starliner crew, participated in the exercise, as well as Eric Boe (who initially was assigned to a Starliner mission, but pulled for medical reasons in January) and astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli (who is completing certification exercises to qualify for future spaceflights).

Our @Commercial_Crew Program is making progress to launch astronauts from U.S. soil to the @Space_Station. Learn about our rehearsals to safely extract crew members from the @SpaceX #CrewDragon spacecraft that will carry astronauts to & from space: https://t.co/0k1PovEqKA pic.twitter.com/km24W9FfhfAugust 18, 2019

What’s new with our @Commercial_Crew astronauts? @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug recently performed suit-up & leak checks using the same Ground Support Equipment hardware that they will use for launch on @SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. Keep up with their training: https://t.co/irbF3GDaC3 pic.twitter.com/lqIsMGWjYIAugust 8, 2019

The astronauts and ground personnel followed a complicated set of procedures to practice safety in the event of a sudden emergency on the pad, such as a rocket explosion. Such an event could offer only seconds to respond, so practicing everything ahead of time is necessary. During the drill, participants donned portable respirators and practiced moving from the crew access arm on the spacecraft, which is nearly 200 feet (60 meters) high, toward a zip line, which they slid down to a staging location on the ground.

Once everyone reached the ground safely, they rushed inside a vehicle designed to withstand any debris from a disaster. The team drove the so-called mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) to a helipad, where flight surgeons and emergency personnel were ready with ambulances and a decontamination vehicle.

Emergency response personnel surround an asteroid with simulated injuries during an exercise conducted by NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance on July 24, 2019.

Emergency response personnel surround an astronaut with simulated injuries during an exercise conducted by NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance on July 24, 2019.

(Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

“Astronauts evacuating from a pad emergency may come into contact with hazardous substances, such as fuel from the rocket or spacecraft, and must be decontaminated to allow medical personnel to safely treat them. In a true emergency, anyone injured would then be transported via helicopter to area hospitals,” NASA said in a statement about the Boeing exercise.

Another practice exercise focused on recovery operations with SpaceX, using a ship called “GO Searcher,” which is one of the vessels that will pick up spacecraft and astronauts splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean after a mission. In this exercise, the teams simulated that Behnken and Hurley needed to be extracted from Crew Dragon. The astronauts were removed and received a mock medical evaluation before they were transported to a nearby airport, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip.

.@NASA led a simulation with @BoeingSpace and @ulalaunch in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the @Space_Station. In the event of an emergency, astronauts and support teams would need to exit the launch pad as quickly as possible: https://t.co/lG6ZspSztG pic.twitter.com/UAgbmm6UZIAugust 5, 2019

“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement concerning the recovery operations. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”

In the same statement, Behnken said he is looking forward to his opportunity for spaceflight and returning to the ISS. “Each of these exercises puts us one step closer to fulfilling NASA’s mission of returning astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil,” he added.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook.

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Spacewalking astronauts add parking spot to space station

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan had to deal with multiple cables to install a docking port delivered by SpaceX last month. It will be …

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Spacewalking astronauts added another parking spot to the International Space Station on Wednesday.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan had to deal with multiple cables to install a docking port delivered by SpaceX last month. It will be used by SpaceX and Boeing once they start launching astronauts to the orbiting lab late this year or early next year.

This is the station’s second docking port for commercial crew capsules. The first was installed three years ago. The newest port replaces one that was destroyed during a SpaceX launch accident in 2015.

It was the third spacewalk for Hague and the first for Morgan, an Army doctor who moved into the station a month ago.

“Docs rock,” Mission Control radioed to Morgan as the spacewalk got underway. The astronaut in Houston communicating to the spacewalkers — who’s also a doctor — added, “Welcome outside.”

Ever since its space shuttles retired in 2011, NASA has been limited to Russian rockets for getting astronauts to the space station. While U.S. commercial deliveries have been running smoothly since 2012, crew flights from Cape Canaveral remain on hold.

SpaceX launched its first crew Dragon capsule with no one aboard in March. The capsule was destroyed the following month during an engine test in Florida. Despite the setback, SpaceX still aims to squeeze in its first test flight with astronauts by year’s end.

Boeing intends to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew this fall, followed by a test flight with a crew sometime early next year.

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Astronauts Test New Spacesuits for SpaceX’s First Crewed Test Flight

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who are assigned to take the first flight on SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, tested out their new spacesuits …

Looks like white and gray are the new orange. NASA offered a glimpse of the sleek, new spacesuits astronauts will be wearing for SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The reveal was part of a training event at the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California for prelaunch operations with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, NASA said last week.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are assigned to take the first flight on SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. (Photo Credit: NASA)

The training provided an opportunity for the integrated team to dry-run all of the activities, procedures, and communication that will be exercised on launch day when a Crew Dragon spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first showed the spacesuit design on Instagram in 2017. In Musk’s photo, the spacesuit was modeled by a person standing next to a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“It definitely works. You can just jump in a vacuum chamber with it, and it’s fine,” Musk said in the 2017 post. “Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function.”

The spacesuit was designed by Hollywood costume designer Jose Fernandez, who created the superhero costumes for Wonder Woman and Captain America: Civil War.

While astronauts on SpaceX missions will don the white and gray suits, astronauts heading into orbit aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will be sporting bright blue spacesuits. NASA unveiled those suits in a vide (see below) in 2017.

During the training at the SpaceX facility, Behnken and Hurley performed suit-up procedures alongside the SpaceX ground closeout team and suit engineers using the same ground support equipment, such as the seats and suit leak check boxes, that will actually be used on launch day.

Last month, the astronauts practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station. The simulations help to ensure they safely and successfully perform the planned operations of the actual spaceflight, with opportunities to fine-tune their procedures and gain experience on how to solve problems should they arise.

Behnken and Hurley are assigned to take the first flight on SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, which will be the Crew Dragon’s chance to demonstrate a complete mission with astronauts, from launch to landing, and will put SpaceX on its way to earning certification from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Once the spacecraft is certified, SpaceX can begin regular flights to the space station with long-duration crews aboard.

In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. With the Demo-1 mission, the Crew Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft built to carry humans to dock with the space station. Its subsequent safe reentry and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean was an important step toward proving the spacecraft is ready to carry humans onboard.

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