The mission will be the first orbital human spaceflight to depart from American soil since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in July 2011 — nine long years ago.
No major concerns were found during a crucial flight readiness review (FRR) for SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, keeping the company’s first-ever crewed flight on track for a May 27 liftoff.
Demo-2 will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the report said.
“It’s been a long, eight and a half or nine years in a lot of ways for the folks that have worked on this program,” said Hurley. “The fact that we didn’t have capability to go to space station from the United States, Bob and I are very humbled to be in this position in order to do that soon.”
Prior to this mission, the space agency has relied completely on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the orbiting lab, the report said.
NASA is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to end that dependence. It currently pays about US$86 million for each seat aboard Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft.
In 2014, the agency awarded SpaceX US$2.6 billion to finish development of the Crew Dragon-Falcon 9 system and fly six operational crewed missions to the ISS, the report said.
Boeing got a similar, US$4.2 billion deal at the same time, which the aerospace company will fulfill using a capsule called CST-100 Starliner.
“The Flight Readiness Review has concluded, and NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission is cleared to proceed toward liftoff on the first crewed flight of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program,” NASA officials wrote in an update.
Crew Dragon visited the ISS on an uncrewed flight in March 2019 called Demo-1, and Demo-2 will fully validate the capsule for operational flight, if all goes according to plan.
But Demo-2 must clear some hurdles of its own before lifting off. And one of the big ones, the FRR, is now in the books.
“It was an excellent review,” NASA associate administrator Steve Jurczyk said during a teleconference. “There are no significant open issues, I am happy to report.”
But there are still some boxes to tick before Demo-2 can get off the ground, the report said.
For example, SpaceX will conduct a “static fire” of the Falcon 9, testing out its first-stage engines while the rocket remains tethered, and the teams will hold a “dry dress” exercise, during which Behnken and Hurley will suit up and run through procedures, the report said.
“We’re going to stay vigilant over the next few days,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time, and we’re going to still fly when we’re ready.”
The astronauts will live on the space station for about three months, then return to Earth in a space capsule, and finally parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, NASA officials said.
Behnken and Hurley have been in strict quarantine since May 13, but they said their actual isolation began as far back as mid-March.
However, the launch plan could be hit by bad weather, with a 60% of a postponement according to official forecasts.