Astronauts Will Test Crew Dragon in Orbit

On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front) participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator. (Credits: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — This is SpaceX’s final flight test, which will validate all aspects of its crew transportation system, including its spacecraft (Crew Dragon), launch vehicle (Falcon 9), launch pad (LC-39A), and operations capabilities.

On this mission, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will don SpaceX’s spacesuits, be transported to the launch pad, and board SpaceX’s next-generation spacecraft. Once Crew Dragon’s hatch is closed, its launch escape system will be armed, which will prepare the spacecraft to separate from the launch vehicle in the unlikely event of anomaly on the pad or during ascent.

Launch and ascent will be consistent with SpaceX’s Cargo Resupply Services Dragon missions’ trajectories and staging events, with the notable exception that astronauts will be onboard.

Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the vehicle is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system, and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things.

In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously, but crew onboard the spacecraft and the Space Station will diligently monitor the performance of the spacecraft as it approaches and docks.

ISS Docking

Crew Dragon will perform a series of phasing maneuvers to gradually approach and autonomously dock with the International Space Station on Thursday, May 28, at approximately 11:30 a.m. EDT.

After successfully docking, the crew will be welcomed aboard the International Space Station, where they will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Return Flight

Dragon water recovery training (Credit: SpaceX)

Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

At the conclusion of the mission, Behnken and Hurley will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up by the SpaceX recovery ship and returned to the dock at Cape Canaveral.