A manned Crew Dragon flight in May ? - Cité de l'Espace

A manned Crew Dragon flight in May ?

A manned Crew Dragon flight in May ?

SpaceX is preparing for the next flight of its Crew Dragon capsule. This mission, called Demo-2, will be its first manned mission, with two NASA astronauts who are going to the ISS. It could take place in May.

With its Commercial Crew Program, NASA entrusts the transport of its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) to the private sector, as well as their return. While the principle is that of a “key turn” contract, the agency closely monitors the technical solutions of the two companies it has selected, SpaceX and Boeing.

Demo-2 in april to june and possibly may

That’s why SpaceX as well as Boeing have to carry out a series of trials with a view to being certified by NASA, their customer. Boeing experienced difficulties during the unmanned flight of its CST-100 Starliner capsule in December 2019. For its part, SpaceX successfully carried out a completely automatic mission of its Crew Dragon to ISS in 2019 (Demo-1), but then experienced its explosion during a ground test (the problem, related to the SuperDraco thrusters has since been resolved). Then, on 19 January, the firm established by Elon Musk demonstrated that the ejection procedure from its capsule during take-off functioned properly. At the subsequent press conference, the April-June slot was suggested for the first manned flight of a Crew Dragon, a mission to the ISS called Demo-2. The two NASA astronauts selected are Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Take-off will take place from the LC-39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida which SpaceX rents from the American agency.

L’équipage de la mission Demo-2 : les astronautes NASA Doug Hurley (commandant, à gauche) et Bob Behnken. Derrière eux, un lanceur Falcon 9 de SpaceX avec une capsule Crew Dragon sur le pas de tir LC-39A du centre spatial Kennedy en Floride. Ce lanceur et cette capsule ont permis en janvier dernier de tester la procédure d’éjection en cours de décollage. Crédit : NASA

The crew of the Demo-2 mission: NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (commander, left) and Bob Behnken. Behind them, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher with a Crew Dragon capsule on the LC-39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This Launcher and capsule enabled testing of the ejection procedure during take-off in January 2020.
Credit: NASA

Demo-2 is still a qualifying flight. All going well, it should enable the SpaceX capsule to be certified to perform crew rotations from the station. NASA would no longer have to buy every seat on a Russian Soyuz at a little over 80 million dollars. On 11 February, American journalist Eric Berger, a specialist in space travel, argued that the working date for Demo-2 was 7 May.

This information appears credible as it is in line with the April-June slot referred to in the press conference on 19 January. However, it should be emphasised that this is not a firm date, and many preparations are still to be carried out. Furthermore, if NASA wishes to extend the mission, originally scheduled for one week, the additional training required could change the schedule.

SpaceX recruits a former director of NASA

The private company SpaceX already carries out cargo flights to the ISS for NASA. However, the field of manned flights and the logic of giving them to the private sector represents a challenge for both the American agency and the chosen service providers. The Commercial Crew Program is, in fact, several years behind schedule to the point where some American elected representatives wonder whether the approach remains relevant when the United States lost their independence as regards transporting astronauts when the Shuttles stopped in 2011. In this context, SpaceX scored brownie points by recruiting William Gerstenmaier, a respected figure in space travel. Born in 1954, he joined NASA as an engineer in 1977 and was its Associate Administrator responsible for Human Exploration and Operations from 2005 to 2019.

William Gerstenmaier, a former NASA Director has been recruited by SpaceX as a consultant.
Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

William Gerstenmaier’s departure in July 2019 came as a surprise. He was replaced by Douglas Loverro in October 2019. For SpaceX, Gerstenmaier will act as a consultant in the field of manned flights.