NASA Targets August 2 for Demo-2 Return

NASA Targets August 2 for Demo-2 Return

NASA is targeting the return of the SpaceX Demo-2 crewed flight test for August 2.  If all goes according to plan, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will undock the evening before and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean in mid-afternoon.  The mission has been going so successfully that it is easy to forget that it is a test flight and the test will not be over until the crew is back home.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed reports on Twitter about the target dates in his own tweet this afternoon.

Earlier, Michael Sheetz of CNBC tweeted not only the dates, but the approximate times.

The actual date will depend on weather.

Hurley and Behnken have been conducting tests of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which they named Endeavour, and assisting NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy since they arrived on May 31.  Behnken and Cassidy performed three spacewalks to replace batteries on the outside of the ISS and a fourth is scheduled for July 21.

Everything is going well, but NASA is anxious to get the crew and spacecraft back on Earth and complete certification of the system for operational flights.  NASA officials expect it will take about 6 weeks to do that, followed by launch of “Crew-1,” the flight that will begin a regular cadence of SpaceX Crew Dragon flights.  International Space Station (ISS) crews typically rotate on 4-6 month schedules.

NASA has been buying crew transportation systems from Russia since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011, but no longer will have to rely on them.

Crew-1 will deliver four astronauts, three from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):  Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi.

In between Demo-2 and Crew-1, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy will be the only American aboard the ISS, with two Russian colleagues Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. Historically the ISS has been staffed routinely with six crew members, but the original plan was seven — three from Russia and a total of four from the United States, Japan, Europe and Canada. With the availability of the U.S. commercial crew systems, the goal of seven finally can be achieved.

The limit of six was set by the number that could be accommodated by “lifeboats” in an emergency. In addition to ferrying crews to and from ISS, Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft has been the only “lifeboat” for these first 20 years of ISS crewed operations. The space shuttle could stay for up to two weeks, but however many ISS crew members went up had to come back, too, since only Soyuzes would remain. They have an on-orbit lifetime of six months.

Each Soyuz can accommodate three people so three crew members can remain if one Soyuz is docked or six if there are two.

Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner will accommodate four for NASA missions and can remain for at least six months. They can carry more than that, but NASA is purchasing four for its needs.

The ISS is very maintenance intensive.  NASA hopes having an additional crew member will substantially increase the amount of scientific research that can be conducted, the raison d’être for building the ISS in the first place.

More generally, the U.S. commercial crew systems will end NASA’s reliance on Russia to keep Americans aboard the ISS, although it plans to continue flying its astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft, and Russian cosmonauts on the U.S. systems, to ensure there is at least one American and one Russian on the ISS at all times.  Both sides agree that is the minimum needed to operate the U.S .and Russian segments of the facility. NASA anticipates those flights will be on a no-exchange-of-funds basis.

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