On Saturday, SpaceX takes the most ambitious step to date to launch people into space. It does not send any impulses to anyone yet, but the upcoming launch is still a very detrimental event. On March 2, in the early hours of the morning, SpaceX's all-new astronaut taxi, nicknamed Dragon Crew– will take off towards the International Space Station.
The flight, officially known as Demo Mission-1 (or DM-1), features an enhanced version of SpaceX software. Dragon freight business. SpaceX has always intended for its Dragon capsules to transport humans, but every SpaceX Dragon The capsule launched so far has only shuttled between the ISS and the cargo. The upgraded version, which will debut on the DM-1, will include new life support systems for crews, seats, control panels and a propulsion system to ensure safety of the crew in case of launch emergency. But he will not transport people; before the astronauts can get on board, SpaceX has to prove Dragon is ready.
This does not mean that the ship will be empty. SpaceX says Dragon will carry supplies for the crew currently in the space station, a radiation experiment and a Starman-like manikin who flew on board the first Falcon Heavy mission. Perched in one of the aircraft's seats, the fake astronaut will wear a custom flight suit that will allow SpaceX to collect data on the capsule environment.
Saturday's mission – which will last about five days – is an abbreviated version of those that future crews will complete. This is because its purpose is to provide critical data on the Dragon Crew performs in the space. "Demo-1 is a flight test, but also a real mission, a very critical mission," said Bill Gerstenmaier, assistant administrator of NASA's manned space flight program, during a press briefing the week last.
"It's a test flight, but it's more than a test flight," he added. "It's a mission to the International Space Station."
After a launch Saturday, Dragon Crew should arrive Sunday morning at the International Space Station, where one of its main tasks will be to show NASA that it can dock safely at the space station – a first for Dragon. To date, all Dragon The spacecraft approaches the station and waits for a member of the crew to catch it with one of the station's robotic arms to hold it in place. With that Dragon Crewthe on-board computers of the craft will undertake the more risky maneuver to guide them to dock.
"We need to make sure that she can safely get to the International Space Station and dock safely and safely to the International Space Station," said Kathy Lueders, Program Manager for the International Space Station. NASA, during the same briefing. .
The dome-shaped black-and-white capsule can accommodate up to seven passengers and represents not only the next important step in the evolution of SpaceX, but also NASA's dependence on ########################################################## 39, a commercial space segment. Saturday's mission will be the first time that a private company is launching an American vehicle ready to equip since the last flight of the space shuttle. Atlantis eight years ago. (At present, NASA and other countries around the world depend on expensive Russian rockets to send their crew to and from the ISS.)
After the end of the shuttle program, NASA trusted the commercial sector by choosing two companies to build its future space taxis: SpaceX and Boeing. These two companies are working since 2014 on the construction of a spacecraft capable of transporting crews under a $ 6.8 billion contract. Their vehicles, SpaceX Dragon Crew and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner– will be the main means used by the agency to transport astronauts into space.
"Human theft is SpaceX's main mission, so we're very excited to do it, there's nothing more important to us than this effort, we really appreciate the opportunity NASA has to offer and the opportunity. to fly to Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of reliability of construction and SpaceX flights, said at the briefing.
If everything goes as planned, a couple of two astronauts will visit the station this summer for a two-week stay. But before that happens, SpaceX will also be doing a test flight in April. This time it will show how well the vehicle's emergency stop system is working. Designed to ensure the safety of the crew, this feature is only intended to be used in case of trouble during the flight. During the test, eight thrusters, integrated into DragonThe hull – will pull and carry the capsule away from the rocket. (The system is similar to the emergency abandonment system of the Soyuz rocket, which had saved two astronauts during an incident last October).
NASA officials explained in last week's briefing that Dragon Crew was lit for this test flight but is not yet ready for people. Many problems still need to be examined before the first crew can board. Engineers must ensure that the aircraft's parachute system is operating as intended and NASA is still analyzing a pesky material: COPVs.
Each Falcon 9 rocket contains these COPVs, or pressurized composite tanks, which help the fuel tank maintain the pressure necessary for the flight when the fuel is exhausted. As a result of an incident in 2016, when a SpaceX rocket exploded on the platform after breaking a COPV during a prerelease routine test, SpaceX has redesigned ships. "The number of tests and research dedicated to COPV security is huge," Musk said during a phone call before the launch of the first block 5 last year. "It is by far the most advanced pressure vessel developed by mankind."
To test the upgrades, NASA says SpaceX will have to fly seven Falcons with the new COPV before flying people. To date, SpaceX has completed five of these missions.
But if the capsule manages to move into orbit, SpaceX will be a step closer to its ultimate goal: the launch of people.
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