On 30 May 2020, NASA sent 2 human into space from their own soil using SpaceX Crew Dragon after 9 years of space shuttle’s retirement. It was a demo mission of Commercial Crew Program. NASA had no other space vehicle to carry out the missions rather than Russia’s Soyuz. NASA sent their astronauts to ISS using Soyuz for 9 years.
Since they did not have their own space vehicle they outsourced to build a new rocket to carry out those mission from US soil. Boeing and SpaceX competed for the project which of course SpaceX won. Boeing used to build most of the NASA’s launch vehicles and infrastructures but failed this time when their test vehicle had some error.
Commercial Crew Program
It is a spaceflight program for taking humans to space using commercially developed spacecraft. NASA involved in Soyuz program after the retirement of Space Shuttle Program in 2011. This time after SpaceX won the Competition with Boeing, NASA will send its astronauts to space via SpaceX Crew Dragon. After the successful launch of demo flight back in May, The Commercial Crew Program is main option to send astronauts for new missions on ISS.
SpaceX Crew Dragon
SpaceX designed and made its launch vehicle for NASA’s new projects. The SpaceX Crew Dragon is capable of carrying up to 7 people to and from earth orbit. It carries supply missions to the ISS. It has two compartments Capsule and Trunk. Some of its specification are:
- Height: 8.1m
- Diameter: 4m
- Capsule Volume: 9.3m3
- Trunk Volume: 37m3
- Launch Payload: 6,000 Kg
- Return Payload: 3,000 Kg
The vehicle from outside seems quite similar to other Soyuz Descend Module but the interior looks very much like from a Hollywood Movie. There is not much buttons, gauges and switched like other space vehicles. The interior’s futuristic looks and more like a dream come to reality. The controls surfaces are touch screen itself on board. The Crew Capsule is fully reusable.
The Crew dragon launches using Falcon 9 booster. Falcon 9 is the most reusable booster. It lands on its own after sending the crew or satellites into space. The Falcon 9 is used for sending all Starlink satellites too.
How SpaceX Crew Dragon works?
The Crew dragon lifts up from launch pad carrying astronauts. After reaching to certain height where booster’s fuel is low and not needed for further journey MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) happens. This is the point where booster is detached and the dragon continues using second engine. After few minutes Second Engine is cutoff. Just after that, the detached Falcon booster lands on drone ship situated at middle of Atlantic Ocean.
After few minutes the dragon detaches from the second stage and continues to its journey to ISS. After about 17 hours from launch the Crew Dragon docks into ISS and completes first part of the mission.
The Second part of mission is to land back the dragon safely on earth. It starts with detachment from ISS and orbit around the earth in lower orbit. During that time the Trunk of Dragon is jettisoned. A deorbit burn is performed to change orbit of Dragon toward earth atmosphere. The dragon aligns to heat shield first position so that it prevents from affecting other components. The atmospheric pressure slows down the vehicle significantly. Parachutes deploys when dragon approaches to water surface and splashes down in ocean gently. This completes a successful Crew Mission.
How they achieved this success?
Elon Musk a great entrepreneur, science enthusiast, a reader had great vision to build a spacecraft and send humans to space as a private company. Most of the space agency were government based as it costs fortune to establish one and operate. It is also one of the most risky business to begin with. Similar thing happened to SpaceX and Elon Musk. He spent millions of dollars of his own money in founding and building launch vehicles. There was the time when it seems that SpaceX as well as Musk himself would go bankrupt but he and SpaceX succeeded. After getting contract from NASA to launch supply to ISS, SpaceX grew more. It got the recognition and trust which led to build Crew Dragon.
The Next Launch
The new date for first Crewed Operational Flight will be on 31 October 2020. It will carry 3 NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. This will be first operational mission in Commercial Crew Program. The mission will last around 210 Days and return to earth around April 2021. This Mission designated as “USCV-1” by NASA was announced in November 2012 with launch date for November 2016 which was delayed to November 2017 and later to 31st October 2020.