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Hurley, Behnken heading home on final leg of Crew Dragon test flight – Spaceflight Now

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Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken undocked from the International Space Station Saturday aboard their Crew Dragon capsule “Endeavour,” heading for a parachute-assisted splashdown Sunday within the Gulf of Mexico to wrap up a 64-day take a look at flight of SpaceX’s business human-rated spaceship.

With favorable wind and sea situations anticipated within the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, mission management gave the go-ahead for Hurley and Behnken to board their Crew Dragon spacecraft and shut hatches between the capsule and the house station.

After a collection of leak checks, an undocking command at 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT) Saturday commenced a collection of automated steps to depart the station. Power umbilicals indifferent contained in the docking mechanism, then 12 hooks opened earlier than the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft fired thrusters in a pair of brief pulses to spice up itself away from the analysis advanced at 7:35 p.m. EDT (2335 GMT).

Wearing custom-made SpaceX-built stress fits, Hurley and Behnken monitored the departure on touchscreen shows inside their Dragon Endeavour spacecraft. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, commander of the station’s Expedition 63 crew, rang the “ship’s bell” on the analysis advanced and ceremoniously introduced the Dragon’s undocking.

Cassidy and his two Russian crewmates — Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — will stay aboard the house station till October, when they may return to a touchdown in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Three contemporary crew members will launch to the house station Oct. 14 on a brand new Soyuz spaceship.

During their two-month keep, Hurley and Behnken assisted Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner with house station duties, performing experiments and upkeep. Behnken joined Cassidy on 4 spacewalks in June and July to exchange batteries on the house station’s solar energy modules.

“Chris, we just can’t thank you enough,” Hurley mentioned in a radio change with Cassidy shortly after undocking. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to be part of Expedition 63 with you, Anatoly and Ivan. It’s been a great two months and we appreciate all you’ve done as a crew to help us prove out Dragon on its maiden flight.”

Hurley additionally thanked NASA mission controllers on the Johnson Space Center in Houston and SpaceX groups in Hawthorne, California, for his or her help.

“We look forward to splashdown tomorrow,” Hurley mentioned. “Also like to wish you great success on the rest of your expedition and a safe flight home in the fall. Take care, friend.”

“Bob and Doug, wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments,” Cassidy replied. “It’s been a real pleasure. It’s been an honor to serve with you. Safe travels and have a successful landing. Endeavour’s a great ship. Godspeed.”

A collection of rocket burns maneuvered the crew capsule a protected distance away from the house station, and the astronauts deliberate to start an eight-hour sleep interval at 11:40 p.m. EDT (0340 GMT).

Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner tweeted this picture Saturday of Crew Dragon astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken putting their mission patch on the house station docking port the place the Dragon is connected. Credit: Ivan Vagner/Roscosmos

Hurley and Behnken will shut out their 64-day take a look at flight — designated Demo-2, or DM-2 — Sunday with a braking burn to drop out of orbit and enter the ambiance, focusing on a splashdown within the Gulf of Mexico close to Pensacola, Florida.

“Our mission isn’t over,” Hurley mentioned Saturday earlier than undocking. “The DM-2 test flight is, in some ways, just two-thirds complete. We did the ascent, rendezvous and the docking. We completed our docked objectives, and now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase.”

“The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part is bringing us home,” Behnken mentioned.

The astronauts are scheduled to get up at 7:40 a.m. EDT (1140 GMT) Sunday to start preparations for his or her return to Earth.

Hurley and Behnken will pack baggage and prepared the spaceship’s cabin for entry. They may also drink fluids in a course of often known as “fluid loading” aimed toward easing their adaptation to Earth’s gravity after two months in orbit.

Assuming a last evaluation of climate and sea situations look favorable within the restoration zone close to Pensacola, the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft — flying on autopilot — will jettison its unpressurized trunk part at 1:51 p.m. EDT (1751 GMT). The trunk is connected to the rear of the Dragon’s crew module, and incorporates the ship’s power-generating photo voltaic panels and radiators used to shed the spacecraft’s inner warmth into house.

The trunk will stay in a comparatively low orbit and can naturally fall again into the ambiance and dissipate.

Meanwhile, the Dragon crew module will maneuver into the right orientation for a deorbit burn utilizing the spacecraft’s Draco thrusters. The braking maneuver will start at 1:56 p.m. EDT (1756 GMT) and final more than 11 minutes, slowing the ship’s velocity by almost 168 mph, or 75 meters per second.

That change in velocity will permit Earth’s gravity to drag the spacecraft again into the ambiance, which can do many of the remainder of the work to sluggish Dragon’s pace for splashdown.

The spacecraft will shut its ahead nostril cone at 2:11 p.m. EDT (1811 GMT) earlier than it plunges into the discernible ambiance at 2:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT), transferring at some 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour).

Hurley and Behnken can be carrying their SpaceX-made flame-resistant stress fits throughout entry, the identical clothes they wore throughout their launch May 30 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on prime of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Diagram of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

Flying with its blunt finish dealing with the brunt of the airflow, the spacecraft’s warmth protect will encounter temperatures as much as 3,500 levels Fahrenheit (1,900 levels Celsius) because it dives into the ambiance.

The build-up of super-heated across the capsule is predicted to interrupt communications with the crew for about six minutes throughout entry. Engineers anticipate to revive communications with the astronauts as soon as Dragon Endeavour comes out of the most popular a part of entry at round 2:42 p.m. EDT (1842 GMT).

Drogue parachutes will launch from the highest of the capsule at 2:44 p.m. EDT (1844 GMT), adopted by the deployment of 4 orange and white primary parachutes a few minute later.

The drogue chutes will deploy when Dragon Endeavour is descending by about 18,000 toes, or 5,500 meters, when the capsule is transferring at roughly 350 mph, or more than 550 kilometers per hour. The 4 primary chutes come out at an altitude of about 6,000 toes, or 1,800 meters, and at a velocity of round 119 mph, or 191 kilometers per hour.

The parachutes will sluggish the capsule’s pace for a delicate splashdown at 2:48 p.m. EDT (1848 GMT) within the Gulf of Mexico, focusing on a location simply south of the Alabama-Florida border.

Going into Sunday’s entry and splashdown, mission management recognized a backup restoration website within the Gulf of Mexico close to Panama City, Florida. SpaceX and NASA have seven Crew Dragon splashdown websites accessible in complete — 4 within the Gulf and three within the Atlantic — however Tropical Storm Isaias is forecast to maneuver close to the mission’s restoration zones off Florida’s East Coast on Sunday.

If climate situations deteriorate within the Gulf of Mexico, mission management might wave-off Sunday’s return alternatives. NASA officers mentioned the astronauts have meals, water and different provides for at the very least three days on the Crew Dragon after the undocking Saturday evening from the house station.

A SpaceX restoration vessel named “Go Navigator” can be on station within the Gulf of Mexico to retrieve the Crew Dragon spaceship after it splashes down.

Two “fast boats” will deploy from Go Navigator and method the capsule, which measures round 13 toes (four meters) in diameter and 16 toes (5 meters). After making certain the spacecraft is protected, the bigger restoration boat will take place close to the Dragon and hoist the capsule out of the water utilizing a lifting body.

Once within the Dragon is on the deck of Go Navigator, Hurley and Behnken will disembark the capsule and bear medical checks.

Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission administration, mentioned the restoration ship may have round 44 folks on-board, together with SpaceX and NASA officers, docs, nurses and different medical personnel. Spacecraft technicians may also be aboard to get well and safe the Dragon capsule.

After an preliminary well being evaluation, Hurley and Behnken will experience a helicopter to Naval Air Station Pensacola, the place they may board a NASA plane for the flight again to their residence base in Houston.

SpaceX’s “Go Searcher” Crew Dragon restoration ship. Credit: SpaceX

The astronauts are coming again to Earth with round 330 kilos (150 kilograms) of cargo, together with frozen experiment specimens, private gear, and a U.S. flag left on the house station by the ultimate house shuttle crew in 2011.

Hurley was the pilot on the ultimate house shuttle flight.

The flag additionally flew on STS-1, the primary shuttle mission, in 1981. The last shuttle crew left it on the house station to be returned by the subsequent astronauts to fly to the analysis lab on a U.S. spacecraft.

In the tip, SpaceX received the “capture the flag” competitors on the excessive frontier.

NASA awarded multibillion-dollar contracts to develop and fly new U.S.-built business crew capsules to SpaceX and Boeing in 2014, following a number of years of preliminary design work.

SpaceX launched a profitable unpiloted Crew Dragon demonstration flight to the house station in March 2019, then overcame a setback throughout floor testing of the Crew Dragon’s launch abort system final 12 months. After redesigning a part of the abort system, and verifying new modifications to the capsule’s parachutes, SpaceX launched the primary Crew Dragon mission with astronauts May 30.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew capsule launched into orbit for its first unpiloted take a look at flight final December, nevertheless it bumped into software issues that prevented the spacecraft from reaching the house station. Boeing recovered the spacecraft with a profitable touchdown in New Mexico, however officers plan to re-fly the uncrewed demonstration mission later this 12 months earlier than clearing the Starliner to hold astronauts for the primary time in 2021.

With the Crew Dragon on the cusp of finishing its first round-trip house mission with astronauts, SpaceX and NASA will analyze information from the Demo-2 take a look at flight earlier than formally certifying the business capsule for operational crew rotation launches.

The first such common crew rotation flight, named Crew-1, is scheduled for launch this fall on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. Four astronauts are assigned to the Crew-1 flight, and NASA final week introduced the crew assignments for the Crew-2 mission within the spring of 2021, the second operational Crew Dragon mission to the house station.

Subsequent Crew Dragon missions to the house station may also launch with as much as 4 passengers, and the spaceship — as soon as licensed after Demo-2’s return — can be able to missions lasting as much as 210 days.

Email the writer.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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