Officials from NASA and SpaceX informed the media that the Crew Dragon spacecraft docked to the International Space Station (ISS) is in good condition and ready to return to Earth as scheduled.
Initially, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission was scheduled to return after the liftoff of the Crew-3 mission, but the duo has been working to juggle the two events.
As a result of changing weather and medical issues, Crew-2’s departure from the ISS has been delayed until tomorrow afternoon. The spacecraft will then travel for eight hours before splashing down on Earth at night.
SpaceX’s Shortest Time Between Dragon Landing And Launch Times Is Two Days Explains Official
According to NASA’s Deputy Manager for the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), Ven Feng, weather restrictions are the major reason for delaying NASA’s upcoming Crew-3 launch until next week, forcing the agency to pull back its previous mission, Crew-2.
In April, the Crew-2 mission soared to the sky and has been in orbit for 198 days. NASA and SpaceX’s second crewed launch of this year, Crew-3, was also discussed by the official.
According to him:
Weather remains the primary driver for the resequencing of activities. So we’re tremendously proud of the entire integrated teams, the NASA teams, SpaceX, the coast guard, FAA and man others have shown their ability to very quickly pivot from Crew-3 launch and Crew-2 landing to do reverse and they’ve done that in just a matter of days. This has been an unprecedented situation switching from the direct to indirect and we’re in a very good posture. Teams are doing it very professionally and we’ll be ready in time for the opportunities we’ll tell you about here during this briefing.
Earlier in the week we could tell the weather was going to be a challenge. We had a low pressure system moving through Florida causing constraints on the Eastern seaboard. For those of you who were in Flordia yesterday, you got to experience it all those winds and rains were a challenge we were looking at for our first two launch attempts which would have been scheduled for today and tomorrow. We were hoping the weather would improve Monday to allow for a direct handover but that wasn’t looking good either. So at the same time, we noticed a high pressure system moving behind the storm front, the likelihood of increasing favorable splashdown weather for Crew-2 in the Gulf. We asked the joint teams to assess and begin some early planning for indirect handover while keeping the Mondy launch opportunity open.
A subsequent conversation focused on Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour, which is approaching its 200th day of orbit. As far as the spacecraft’s health is concerned, both SpaceX’s director of Dragon mission management, Ms. Sarah Walker, and NASA’s director of spacecraft operations, Mr. Feng, expressed confidence in it.
Responding to a question about SpaceX’s turnaround times between landing and launching spacecraft, the SpaceX executive replied that:
So given the return durations for both the primary and backup undocking dates they both would splashdown on Monday, either morning or evening. So that shortest time before our first launch opportunity would be two days. And that is a supportable amount of time we’ve looked at the assets and the personnel supporting both the Crew-2 recovery operations and the Crew-3 launch operations. The teams and assets are actually largely independent. There’s a couple of folks that support both and that gives them multiple sleep cycles to be able to transition from one activity to the next and be well rested. It also gives a chance to do a quick data review from the downhill leg of the Crew-2 vehicle. So we can do some initial inspections on the boats, we can look at the telemetry from the return portion and we’ll hold the delta launch readiness review with NASA at L-24 hours to the first launch opportunity.
Mr. Feng also confirmed that while the certified time limit for the Dragon’s orbital life is 210 days, extending the vehicle’s life is possible. Building upon this, Walker explained that the 200 days limit was set according to NASA specifications, with the hardware being certified to meet these.
The NASA official shared some of the different systems on the Crew Dragon that need to be evaluated to determine how long the Dragon can spend in orbit. According to him:
From a 210 day limitation, that is the cert limit and of course when you look at all the many thousands of aspects of certifying a vehicle. Everything is certified any anything that has got a lifetime has to be evaluated for a lifetime and in this case that lifetime was for 210 days in most cases. So we’ll be looking at things like the performance of the solar cells right. Solar cells degrade while they’re in space. These particular solar cells are actually performing very well. So on every Dragon 2 vehicle that’s come to Space Station, it’s exceeded its certified performance and degradation is less than what was assumed in the analysis. Propulsion systems have highly corrosive propellants inside and so soft goods like seals, can be a limiting factor. They can be in other spacecraft and in this particular one they’ve shown no problems in exceeding the lifetime of 210 days. Times of margin that we put on top for conservatism.
There’s the exterior top protection system outside which is exposed all the full radiation of the Sun as it’s exposed up in space those walls RTV so there are just many different aspects and those three I mentioned are probably sort of the top aspects along with anything consumables that might be inside like for instance the carbon dioxide removal or other consumables used inside the Dragon. So it’s a fairly, it’s a very comprehensive analysis we’d have to go back, our teams have already sorted that relook. They’ve done initial look, they’re doing a relook and this particular case teams are primarily focused on that return. But for the future, we’re always keeping in mind that 210 life.
Tomorrow at 14:05 EST, SpaceX Crew-2 will detach from the International Space Station and return to Earth for an estimated eight hours before splashing down at 22:33 EST. Six months in orbit will come to an end for astronauts Meghan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough of NASA, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA), and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).