This week is a very exciting week because we can now experience a landmark event in the history of space travel. If all goes to plan on the 27th of May 2020, we’re going to see for the first time in nine years the launch of astronauts from American soil going to the International Space Station. The official title of the mission is Demonstration Mission 2 (DM-2) and as you may have guessed is the first crewed mission of SpaceX.
The last mission of this kind was the final NASA space shuttle mission in 2011 before the Space Shuttle was decommissioned. After which all of the missions to the space station were launched from Russia on Soyuz Rockets and this new mission is also a big deal because it’s the first crewed mission to the International Space Station to be run by a private company.
SpaceX isn’t merely supplying the rocket and spacecraft to NASA, but running the entire mission as well, so this really is the beginning of commercial human spaceflight. This mission is the final test to validate that SpaceX can deliver astronauts to and from the space station.
The astronauts flying this mission are Spacecraft Commander Douglas G. Hurley and Joint Operations Commander Robert L. Behnken. They’re both veterans of the space shuttle program with two flights each under their belts and it’s very cool for Douglas Hurley because he was the pilot of the final space shuttle mission and now he’s the pilot of the first commercial flight.
They’ve both come across as being very calm and confident but spaceflight is inherently risky and being the first people to sit on top of a new rocket and get blasted into space is both amazing and terrifying.
After the launch the first stage of the rocket separates and comes back to earth to land on a barge which is an amazing feat of engineering. Because this part of the rocket is reusable it brings the cost of spaceflight way down for this mission.
On the way to the space station the astronauts will test fly the spacecraft with the manual controls and then oversee an automatic docking with the space station then they’ll be working on the space station for two to three months before returning to earth. The return part is the final test to prove that SpaceX can safely deliver astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
If this all works it’s very cool because it’s a new cheaper way to get people into space and this has all happened because of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This is a NASA program to fund commercial companies to incentivize them to work out ways of efficiently getting into space. SpaceX is not the only beneficiary of this program. Boeing also has a spacecraft in the works as well and so this mission if successful really marks the beginning of commercial space travel and potentially the beginning of space tourism in the future.
Falcon 9 Rocket & Dragon 2 Spacecraft
For safety, the Dragon spacecraft has a kind of ejector mechanism that can launch it away from the main rocket if there are any problems during the launch. This is called the integrated launch escape system. Everything on this spacecraft has been slightly over-engineered in case of failures. For example the escape system only really needs four engines but it’s got eight. The main Falcon 9 rocket only needs seven engines to get into space but has got nine just in case. On this test flight only two seats are going to be used but Dragon has a capacity for seven astronauts.
The biggest change from other spacecraft is that this one is controlled via touchscreen monitors which might sound risky due to having a single point of failure but NASA and SpaceX have been testing this extensively. One advantage of using touchscreen monitors is that it does free up a lot of space from millions of switches and levers that you see in other spacecraft. It’s important to note that most of the flight is completely automated although the astronauts do have an option of manual override if they need to take control for some reason.
Falcon 9 and Dragon have made lots of cargo deliveries before but never transported people. That’s why to get to flying people SpaceX had to pass a whole set of safety tests. The pad abort test was to test the escape system to make sure it works properly and this was passed in 2015. In 2019 the escape system rockets exploded during a test which set the whole schedule back by nearly a year. At the end of 2019 SpaceX retested it and fixed those issues. Back in March of 2019, They successfully tested the escape system in midair where they ejected the Dragon spacecraft causing the whole rocket to blow up.
Another difference to other missions is that the astronauts will be sitting on top of the rocket while it’s being fuelled. In other missions, they fuel the rocket before the astronauts embark, whereas now they’re fueling it with the astronauts on top so that they can launch as soon as the fuel is in the rocket. The aforementioned procedure is necessary because falcon 9 uses liquid oxygen and kerosene which are more effective when they’re in cryogenic temperatures. The risk involved has to do with the fact that the rocket could explode during fueling which has happened once in the past with a falcon 9. However, SpaceX has fueled safely many times and NASA has given it the green light.
Below we have gathered resources about the Demo 2 Mission, Youtube channels that will be live streaming the mission and twitter accounts you want to follow to stay up to date with developments regarding the mission.
The Launch is scheduled Wed, 27 May 2020 at 23:33 EEST. Live coverage of the mission will start 4.5 hours earlier Wed, 27 May 2020 at 19:00 EEST. All times and dates are adjusted to Athens, Greece and are subject to change.
UPDATE: The May 27 launch window was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather conditions. The next launch window is on Sat, 30 May 2020 at 22:22 EEST. Live coverage will start 4.5 hours earlier at 18:00 EEST.
Further Reading on DM-2 Crew Mission:
- NASA Mission Description
- SpaceX Mission Profile
- Everyday Astronaut Prelaunch Preview
- Dragon – ISS Docking Simulator
Youtube Channels Live Streamings to Watch:
- Nasa Live (Mission Coverage) T – 4h
- SpaceX (Launch Coverage + Mission Control)
- Everyday Astronaut (Mission & Launch Coverage) T – 10h
- Scott Manley (Mission & Launch Coverage)
Twitter Accounts to Follow:
- NASA (USA Aeronautics and Space Agency)
- NASA Commercial Crew (Official NASA Crew Account)
- SpaceX (Launch Provider)
- ISS (Destination – International Space Station)
- Jim Bridenstine (NASA – Administrator)
- Elon Musk (SpaceX – Founder, CEO & Lead Designer)
- Tim Dodd (Everyday Astronaut – Space Communicator)
- Scott Manley (Internet Rocket Scientist, Astronomer)
Major achievements of SpaceX are in the reuse of orbital-class launch vehicles and cost reduction in the space launch industry. Most notable of these being the continued landings and relaunches of the first stage of Falcon 9. As of March 2020, SpaceX has used a single first-stage booster, at most five times. Below are SpaceX achievements so far:
- 2002: SpaceX was Founded
- 2008: First privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit
- 2009: First privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to put a commercial satellite in orbit
- 2010: First private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft
- 2012: First private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station
- 2013: First private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit
- 2015: First landing of an orbital rocket’s first stage on land
- 2016: First landing of an orbital rocket’s first stage on an ocean platform
- 2017: First relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket stage
- 2017: First controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing
- 2017: First reflight of a commercial cargo spacecraft.
- 2018: First private company to send an object into heliocentric orbit
- 2019: First private company to send a human-rated spacecraft to space
- 2019: First private company to autonomously dock a spacecraft to the ISS
- 2019: First use of a full flow staged combustion cycle engine in a free flying vehicle
- 2019: First reuse of payload fairing
On May 30, 2020 SpaceX is about to be the first private company to launch humans into orbit. Fingers Crossed!