SpaceX’s Fresh Dragon Upgrades Ensured Successful Launch Today Outlines Official
In the early morning hours of Florida, a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Crew Dragon capsule successfully departed from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to take astronauts for the Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station. The mission is the third time that the Hawthorne, California-based launch service provider has launched crew to the ISS, and it comes less than a year after NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley resumed space flights from U.S. soil as part of their DM-2 demonstration mission.
Crew Dragon Expected To Reach ISS On Early Saturday Morning
Onboard the Crew Dragon are astronauts Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA). Their launch was delayed by a day to today as weather constraints prevented NASA and SpaceX from launching on Thursday. While the weather on the launch site permitted launch, downrange weather, which ensures that the astronauts have a safe landing area in case of an emergency abort, did not meet NASA's safety requirements.
Soon after liftoff at 05:49 EST, the Falcon 9's first and second stages separated successfully as the Crew Dragon capsule reached its initial desired orbital parameters. Following this, the vehicle opened its nosecone as it was free from the aerodynamical stressors of flight and conducted a burn to adjust its orbit. The first burn is one of five conducted before reaching a distance of kilometers from the ISS. It does these burns through its Draco thrusters which use a different fuel and oxidizer mix than the Falcon 9 rocket's Merlin engines.
While the Dragon capsule flying the four astronauts is the same that flew Behnken and Hurley to the ISS last year, it features several upgrades over the original design. These include changes to its propulsion system that allow it to generate more thrust in case of an emergency abort and increased durability which increases the range of extreme weather conditions that it can tolerate after splashing down in the water post-return.
A crucial hindrance for the Crew Dragon has been its ability to stick to mission timelines due to weather constraints and both these upgrades are designed to ensure that the vehicle has greater leeway.
NASA's commercial crew program manager Mr. Steve Stich stressed the importance of the upgrades in a post-launch press teleconference today. According to him, today's mission would not have been possible without the changes.
As the official outlined:
Today the weather cooperated, you know we moved the launch one day. We looked at the abort weather and the downrange abort track wasn't very good for Thursday. We moved that launch one day and the weather just cooperated great today. You know the vehicle improvements that SpaceX embarked upon for this flight adding capability to handle onshore winds, today was the difference really in getting off with the onshore winds with the vehicle we had for Crew-1 and Demo-2 we would not have gotten off.
Making a surprise appearance at the conference, SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk described the NASA launches as a dream for him. He also commented on his company being able to secure a $3 billion contract from NASA to develop a lunar lander under the agency's Artemis program.
Highlighting his company's founding goal of making humanity an interplanetary species, the executive stated that, "We don't want to be one of those single planet species, we want to be a multi-planet species."
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