NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are just hours away from splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. Splashdown remains scheduled for 2:48 p.m. EDT following a nearly two-month test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Pensacola, Florida remains the prime location with Go Navigator as the recovery vessel. The recovery boat departed its port at 9:20 a.m. to stage for recovery operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Go Navigator is operating with a fully functioning generator and is ready to support splashdown operations this afternoon. Earlier this morning, a backup generator failed on the recovery ship prior to leaving port, but that is not considered an impact for normal recovery operations. The recovery vessel still has full capability to safely recover the spacecraft and crew.
Return conditions remain “Go” at the primary and alternate targeted sites.
The duo arrived at the International Space Station on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During their 62 days aboard station, Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations, participated in public engagement events, and supported four spacewalks with Behnken and Cassidy to install new batteries in the station’s power grid and upgrade other station hardware.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have begun their final day in orbit inside the Crew Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft ahead of splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:48 p.m. EDT this afternoon.
To wake them, Mission Control Hawthorne played the dads an audio message from their sons.
Conditions remain “Go” at the primary targeted site, off the coast of Pensacola, and alternate site off the coast of Panama City in the Gulf of Mexico for splashdown and recovery.
Here’s the timeline for return activities (all times Eastern):
1:51 p.m. – Crew Dragon performs claw separation. The claw is located on Crew Dragon’s trunk, connecting thermal control, power, and avionics system components located on the trunk to the capsule.
1:51 p.m. – Trunk separation
1:56 p.m. – Deorbit burn begins
2:08 p.m. – Deorbit burn complete
2:11 p.m. – Nosecone deploys
2:32 p.m. – Crew Dragon maneuvers to attitude for re-entry
2:44 p.m. – Drogue parachutes deployat about 18,000 feet in altitude while Crew Dragon is moving approximately 350 miles per hour.
2:45 p.m. – Main parachutes deployat about 6,000 feet in altitude while Crew Dragon is moving approximately 119 miles per hour.
2:48 p.m. – Splashdown
Crew Dragon autonomously undocked from the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 7:35 p.m. Saturday, two very small engine burns separating Crew Dragon from the station, and the spacecraft slowly maneuvered away from the orbital laboratory. Once flying free, Dragon Endeavour autonomously executed four departure burns that moved the spaceship away from the space station and the crew began the flight home. A phasing burn overnight put it on its path toward Pensacola.
The duo arrived at the orbiting laboratory on May 31, following a successful launch on May 30 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During their 62 days aboard station, Behnken and Hurley contributed more than 100 hours of time to supporting the orbiting laboratory’s investigations, participated in public engagement events, and supported four spacewalks with Behnken and Cassidy to install new batteries in the station’s power grid and upgrade other station hardware.
Following a scheduled assessment of weather conditions for splashdown, teams from NASA and SpaceX are proceeding with preparations to bring NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley home to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft.
Conditions are “Go” at the primary targeted site, off the coast Pensacola, and alternate site off the coast of Panama City in the Gulf of Mexico for splashdown and recovery on Sunday, Aug. 2. Teams will continue to closely monitor Hurricane Isaias and evaluate impacts to the potential splashdown sites.
SpaceX will monitor changes to conditions until 2.5 hours prior to the scheduled undocking, when a determination to proceed with departure will be made. If conditions are marginal and exceed the accepted criteria, a joint recommendation by SpaceX and NASA will be made whether to proceed with undocking at 7:34 p.m. EDT. NASA and SpaceX will make the final decision to proceed after the astronauts are ready inside Crew Dragon just before undocking.
Live coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 return will begin at 5:15 p.m. and continue through the targeted splashdown at 2:48 p.m. on Sunday, the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station. It will wrap up NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight after more than two months at the International Space Station.
Hurley and Behnken arrived at the orbiting laboratory in the Crew Dragon May 31 following a launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30. This is SpaceX’s final test flight and is providing data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.
Following a comprehensive review of the latest weather forecast in the areas surrounding each of seven potential splashdown locations, NASA and SpaceX have decided to move forward with plans to bring NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley home to Earth with a splashdown off the Florida coast on Sunday, Aug. 2, aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft.
Teams will continue to closely monitor Tropical Storm Isaias and evaluate impacts to weather around the Florida peninsula, including the potential splashdown sites in the Gulf of Mexico and along the state’s Atlantic coast. NASA and SpaceX will make a decision on a primary splashdown target approximately 6 hours before undocking Saturday.
Undocking remains scheduled for approximately 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, and splashdown at 2:42 p.m. EDT on Sunday. This will mark the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station, and it will wrap up NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission after more than two months at the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying Hurley and Behnken lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30 and arrived at the space station the following day. The Demo-2 test flight is helping NASA certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. SpaceX is readying the hardware for the first rotational mission, which would occur following NASA certification.
The docking followed the first successful launch of Crew Dragon with astronauts on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. EDT Saturday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space in Florida, the same launch pad used for the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission.
After reaching orbit, Behnken and Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft “Endeavour” as a tribute to the first space shuttle each astronaut had flown aboard. Endeavour also flew the penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle Program, launching in May 2011 from the same pad.
This flight, known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, is an end-to-end test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. This is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard, and will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Editor’s note: This post was updated to note that the prelaunch news conference is now a media teleconference only and will not be broadcast on NASA TV. Live audio of the teleconference will be streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/live.
Key managers and officials from NASA and SpaceX will convene at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida today for the Launch Readiness Review, the final planned review before the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission begins. Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A.
A prelaunch media teleconference will follow at 6 p.m. or approximately one hour after the review ends. Participants:
Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
Kirk Shireman, manager, NASA International Space Station Program
Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX
Norm Knight, deputy director, Flight Operations, NASA Johnson Space Center
Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron
The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions for the Demo-2 mission. The primary weather concerns for launch are flight through precipitation, thick and cumulus clouds.
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission will return human spaceflight to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on an American rocket and spacecraft as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Demo-2 will be SpaceX’s final test flight to validate its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, launch pad and operations capabilities. During the mission, the crew and SpaceX mission controllers will verify the performance of the spacecraft’s environmental control system, displays and control system, maneuvering thrusters, autonomous docking capability, and more. Behnken and Hurley will join the Expedition 63 crew on the station to conduct important research as well as support station operations and maintenance. While docked to the station, the crew will run tests to ensure the Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable on future missions of remaining connected to the station for up to 210 days. The specific duration for this mission will be determined after arrival based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. Finally, the mission will conclude with the Crew Dragon undocking from the station, deorbiting and returning Behnken and Hurley to Earth with a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
Boeing has decided to fly a second uncrewed flight test as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Although no new launch date has been set, NASA has accepted the proposal to fly the mission again and will work side-by-side with Boeing to resume flight tests to the International Space Station on the company’s CST-100 Starliner system.
The agency’s Commercial Crew Program is a unique approach to human spaceflight in which NASA provides a set of mission and safety requirements and private companies, like Boeing and SpaceX, propose their own unique strategies to prove the systems meet the intent of the requirements. Consistent with that approach, Boeing had the responsibility to bring NASA its proposal on how to proceed with the flights.
An uncrewed flight test originally was proposed by Boeing to demonstrate the Starliner system could perform as designed to fly to the space station prior to having a crew onboard. With that proposal, the uncrewed flight became a part of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract in 2014 between NASA and Boeing.
Although many of the objectives of Boeing’s first uncrewed flight test in December 2019 were accomplished, Boeing decided the best approach to meeting the agency’s requirements would be to fly the mission again, including docking with the space station. Data from the next and previous flight test will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.
If Boeing would have proposed a crewed mission as the next flight, NASA would have completed a detailed review and analysis of the proposal to determine the feasibility of the plan. However, as this was not the recommendation made by Boeing, NASA will not speculate on what the agency would have required.
The second uncrewed flight does not relieve Boeing from completing all the actions determined from the joint NASA/Boeing independent review team, which was commissioned following the flawed initial flight. NASA still intends to conduct the needed oversight to make sure those corrective actions are taken.
NASA and Boeing are in the early stages of the decision to fly a second uncrewed orbital mission to the station, and a timeline for flying crew has not been determined.
Although completing a second uncrewed flight test was not in the timeline for returning U.S. human spaceflight on Starliner, NASA fully supports our Boeing partner’s commitment to flying astronauts as safely as possible.
This is exactly why NASA decided to select two partners in the commercial crew effort. Having dissimilar redundancy is key in NASA’s approach to maintaining a crew and cargo aboard the space station and to keeping our commitments to international partners. It also allows our private industry partners to focus on crew safety rather than schedule. The safety of our commercial crew team always will remain as our top priority.
To date, SpaceX has completed 24 tests of its upgraded Mark 3 parachute design they are working to certify for use on the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The system was used during the SpaceX in-flight abort test in January.
On March 24, SpaceX lost a spacecraft-like device used to test the Crew Dragon Mark 3 parachute design. The test requires a helicopter to lift the device suspended underneath it to reach the needed test parameters. However, the pilot proactively dropped the device in an abundance of caution to protect the test crew as the test device became unstable underneath the helicopter. At the time of the release, the testing device was not armed, and a test of the parachute design was not performed.
Although losing a test device is never a desired outcome, NASA and SpaceX always will prioritize the safety of our teams over hardware. We are looking at the parachute testing plan now and all the data we already have to determine the next steps ahead of flying the upcoming Demo-2 flight test in the mid-to-late May timeframe.
The joint NASA and Boeing Independent Review Team formed following the anomalies during the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program has completed its initial investigation. The team was tasked with reviewing three primary anomalies experienced during the mission: two software coding errors and unanticipated loss of space-to-ground communication capability. During the investigation, the team identified several technical and organizational issues related to Boeing’s work. Separate from the independent team, NASA reviewed its role in the flight test and identified several areas where the agency can improve its level of participation and involvement into company’s processes.
While the review team, NASA and Boeing have made significant progress during the last month, more work will be required to inform the agency’s decision of whether Boeing will need to perform another uncrewed test flight of the Starliner system. NASA will determine whether a repeat of the flight will be needed after Boeing has presented its detailed resolution and rework plan, and NASA has independently assessed the thoroughness of that plan.
NASA also will perform an evaluation of the workplace culture of Boeing ahead of crewed test flights through an Organizational Safety Assessment (OSA). The goal of the OSA is to provide a comprehensive safety assessment through individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross-section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at various sites.
Further, NASA will designate the anomalies experienced during the mission as a high visibility close call. As there were no injuries during the flight, this close call designation is where the potential for a significant mishap could have occurred and should be investigated to understand the risk exposure and the root cause(s) that placed equipment or individuals at risk. Since 2004, the year NASA updated this procedural requirement, NASA has designated about 24 high visibility close calls. For example, in July 2013, astronaut Luca Parmitano discovered a leak in his spacesuit that could have resulted in asphyxiation; as a result, that incident also was given the same designation.
Description of the three primary anomalies:
Mission Elapsed Timer (MET): Following spacecraft separation with the Atlas V launch vehicle, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is programmed to execute a few maneuvers tied to the mission timer. Because of an error in the coding, the Starliner synced its clock with the rocket before the terminal count had begun, which is when the rocket sets the correct time for a designated T-0. This led to the spacecraft thinking it was at a different point in the mission following separation, and it did not conduct the correct maneuvers.
Service Module Disposal Burn: Following the MET anomaly, Boeing and NASA reviewed other phases of flight where software coding could impact mission success. This review resulted in the team discovering and correcting a software issue during Starliner’s crew and service module separation sequence. The correction ensured a successful separation and disposal of the service module.
Space-to-Ground Communication (S/G): An Intermittent S/G forward link issue impeded the flight control team’s ability to command and control Starliner during the mission and could impede reliable voice communication with crew during a flight with astronauts.
What the Review Team Found and Recommends
The review team’s analysis identified 61 corrective and preventative actions to address the two software anomalies; those actions are organized into four categories to help manage and execute the scope of the work. Below are the four categories and examples of the resulting actions that Boeing has already begun working on:
Perform code modifications: Boeing will review and correct the coding for the mission elapsed timer and service module disposal burn.
Improve focused systems engineering: Boeing will strengthen its review process including better peer and control board reviews, and improve its software process training.
Improve software testing: Boeing will increase the fidelity in the testing of its software during all phases of flight. This includes improved end-to-end testing with the simulations, or emulators, similar enough to the actual flight system to adequately uncover issues.
Ensure product integrity: Boeing will check its software coding as hardware design changes are implemented into its system design.
Boeing already has accepted the full action list as defined by the review team and is in the process of refining its implementation schedule and incorporating this work into its plans with multiple actions already underway. As work continues, NASA and Boeing have asked the joint review team to track their progress and execution of each action.
The review team also is continuing its investigation of the intermittent space-to-ground forward link issue that impeded the flight control team’s ability to command and control the spacecraft. The team has identified the technical root cause as radiofrequency interference with the communications system. While the team has recommended specific hardware improvements already in work by the company, the full assessment and resulting recommendations will continue through March.
In addition to the technical issues described above, the review team identified organizational issues that contributed to the anomalies. In response, Boeing plans to institutionalize improvements in its engineering board authority, operational testing practices for both hardware and software, and the standardization problem review and approval processes.
NASA’s Internal Review and Forward Work
Concurrent with the independent review team, NASA performed an in-depth assessment of its role and identified multiple actions the agency will take to complement the actions planned by the Boeing Starliner team.
NASA has developed a comprehensive plan to ensure the agency has full coverage of critical Boeing software improvements. This plan also includes reassessing all hazard report verifications of software controls, re-opening hazard reports as necessary, reviewing software verification plans, and reviewing the adequacy of the test environments and audits of scripts used in testing. NASA also will co-locate personnel with the Boeing software team, increase support to the Boeing Software Change Control Board and the problem resolution process. NASA also plans to perform additional flight software audits.
In addition, NASA will improve its software independent verification and validation performance and overall NASA insight into this area. NASA also plans to address areas where additional NASA “safety nets” may be beneficial for all providers.
NASA also will take several actions to improve the overall system integration of Starliner, including revisiting all hazard causes related to system interfaces to ensure hazards are fully defined, well-controlled, and properly verified; and reviewing existing Interface Control Documents to ensure NASA understands where the definitive data sources are for subsystem interfaces.
Following the anomaly that occurred during the December Boeing Starliner Orbital Fight Test (OFT), NASA and Boeing formed a joint investigation team tasked with examining the primary issues, which occurred during that test. Those issues included three specific concerns revealed during flight:
An error with the Mission Elapsed Timer (MET), which incorrectly polled time from the Atlas V booster nearly 11 hours prior to launch.
A software issue within the Service Module (SM) Disposal Sequence, which incorrectly translated the SM disposal sequence into the SM Integrated Propulsion Controller (IPC).
An Intermittent Space-to-Ground (S/G) forward link issue, which impeded the Flight Control team’s ability to command and control the vehicle.
The joint investigation team convened in early January and has now identified the direct causes and preliminary corrective actions for the first two anomalies. The intermittent communications issues still are under investigation. NASA reviewed these results on Friday, Jan. 31 along with multiple suggested corrective actions recommended by the team. While NASA was satisfied that the team had properly identified the technical root cause of the two anomalies, they requested the team to perform a more in-depth analysis as to why the anomalies occurred, including an analysis of whether the issues were indicative of weak internal software processes or failure in applying those processes. The team is in the process of performing this additional analysis, as well as continuing the investigation of the intermittent communications issues. NASA briefed the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on the status of the investigation this week.
Regarding the first two anomalies, the team found the two critical software defects were not detected ahead of flight despite multiple safeguards. Ground intervention prevented loss of vehicle in both cases. Breakdowns in the design and code phase inserted the original defects. Additionally, breakdowns in the test and verification phase failed to identify the defects preflight despite their detectability. While both errors could have led to risk of spacecraft loss, the actions of the NASA-Boeing team were able to correct the issues and return the Starliner spacecraft safely to Earth.
There was no simple cause of the two software defects making it into flight. Software defects, particularly in complex spacecraft code, are not unexpected. However, there were numerous instances where the Boeing software quality processes either should have or could have uncovered the defects. Due to these breakdowns found in design, code and test of the software, they will require systemic corrective actions. The team has already identified a robust set of 11 top-priority corrective actions. More will be identified after the team completes its additional work.
The joint team made excellent progress for this stage of the investigation. However, it’s still too early for us to definitively share the root causes and full set of corrective actions needed for the Starliner system. We do expect to have those results at the end of February, as was our initial plan. We want to make sure we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened so that we can fully explain the root causes and better assess future work that will be needed. Most critically, we want to assure that these necessary steps are completely understood prior to determining the plan for future flights. Separate from the anomaly investigation, NASA also is still reviewing the data collected during the flight test to help determine that future plan. NASA expects a decision on this review to be complete in the next several weeks.
NASA and Boeing are committed to openly sharing the information related to the mission with the public. Thus, NASA will be holding a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7.
In addition to these reviews, NASA is planning to perform an Organizational Safety Assessment of Boeing’s work related to the Commercial Crew Program. The comprehensive safety review will include individual employee interviews with a sampling from a cross section of personnel, including senior managers, mid-level management and supervision, and engineers and technicians at multiple sites. The review would be added to the company’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract. NASA previously completed a more limited review of the company. The goal of the Organizational Safety Assessment will be to examine the workplace culture with the commercial crew provider ahead of a mission with astronauts.
Boeing’s Orbital Flight test launched on Friday, Dec. 20, on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission successfully landed two days later on Sunday, Dec. 22, completing an abbreviated test that performed several mission objectives before returning to Earth as the first orbital land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history.