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. Launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station, is slated for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Two televised events are planned for today.
At 2:15 p.m., NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will participate with journalists in a virtual question-and-answer session about their upcoming mission, the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2. Behnken and Douglas will talk with reporters via Skype from the Astronaut Crew Quarters inside the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
At 2:45 p.m., NASA will broadcast a post-review news conference from Kennedy. Participants are:
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk
Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
Kirk Shireman, manager, International Space Station Program
Benji Reed, director of crew mission management, SpaceX
Norm Knight, deputy director, NASA Johnson Space Center Flight Operations
Today the SpaceX, commercial crew and space station communities held thorough discussions about requirements for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test, but still have a few topics remaining for discussion during the Flight Readiness Review and will continue those on Friday. Approximately one hour after the review ends Friday, the agency will hold a news conference on NASA Television and online at http://www.nasa.gov/live.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will participate in a virtual media engagement at 2:15 p.m. Friday from Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy, answering questions about their upcoming launch.
SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying Behnken and Hurley to the International Space Station aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Liftoff is planned for 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27, from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy. Part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the flight will return human spaceflight capability to America for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket set to launch NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on the agency’s upcoming SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station is in position for liftoff at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The rocket, topped by the Crew Dragon spacecraft, arrived at the launch pad Thursday morning. Liftoff is planned for 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27.
Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX managers are gathered at Kennedy, with some participating remotely to maintain physical distance, for the Demo-2 Flight Readiness Review (FRR). The review will focus on the readiness of SpaceX’s crew transportation system; the readiness of the station program and its international partners to support the flight; and the certification of flight readiness.
The FRR is targeted to be completed today, but officials have set aside additional time tomorrow, if needed. Approximately one hour after the review ends, the agency will hold a news conference on NASA Television and online at http://www.nasa.gov/live.
With the addition of a powerful piece of hardware, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover continues to progress toward its much-anticipated launch in less than two months.
The spacecraft’s booster arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Skid Strip on Monday, May 18. It was then offloaded and taken to United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center.
Perseverance will reach the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. After the rover enters the thin Martian atmosphere, the descent stage — utilizing a tether of nylon cords — will lower Perseverance to the surface of Jezero Crater.
Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. Ingenuity, the twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to Perseverance, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.
The Demo-2 flight crew has reported to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to start final preparations for liftoff. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley arrived at the Launch and Landing Facility runway after departing earlier today from Ellington Field near the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. They’re slated to lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27, aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carried by a Falcon 9 rocket – the first launch of American astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station in nearly a decade.
Upon stepping out of the aircraft, Behnken explained how excited he and Hurley are to be the first to fly on the Crew Dragon.
“We’re thankful for that opportunity,” Behnken said. “We view it as an opportunity, but also, a responsibility – for the American people, for the SpaceX team, for all of NASA – who put this opportunity together and entrusted us with it.”
“I happen to have been one of the four astronauts who landed here almost nine years ago in T-38s on the 4th of July in 2011 to close out the Space Shuttle Program. It’s incredibly humbling to be here to start out the next [crewed] launch from the United States,” Hurley said. “I also want to thank the incredible men and women of SpaceX that have put so many thousands of hours of work into this rocket and spacecraft. We’re looking forward to getting up close and personal with Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon in just a few days.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Center Director Bob Cabana greeted Behnken and Hurley as they stepped off the NASA Gulfstream aircraft at the runway’s parking apron.
“This will be the fifth time in American history when we have launched American astronauts on a brand-new vehicle. We did it in Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, we did it with the space shuttles, and now we’re going to do it with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule; and it’s these gentlemen that are going to have the opportunity to pioneer once more for the United States of America,” Bridenstine said. Turning to the crew, he added, “You’re the best that America has to offer.”
Cabana recalled the last time astronauts arrived to prepare for launch from Kennedy – the STS-135 crew, including Hurley, who piloted space shuttle Atlantis on the program’s final flight.
“It’s been almost nine years since July 4, 2011. That’s the last time a crew flew into the landing facility on their way to space,” Cabana said. “I can’t tell you how great it is to welcome Bob and Doug here for this historic mission.”
Tomorrow, NASA and SpaceX managers will conduct a flight readiness review at Kennedy to determine whether the Crew Dragon and its systems are ready for the mission. A news conference will follow at approximately 6 p.m., or one hour after the review concludes. Watch it live on NASA Television or on the web at https://www.nasa.gov/live.
Tomorrow’s schedule calls for the astronauts to depart from Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and fly to Kennedy aboard an agency Gulfstream aircraft. They’re expected to arrive at the Launch and Landing Facility at Kennedy at approximately 4 p.m. EDT. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Center Director Bob Cabana will greet the crew, followed by a news conference at the runway. These events will be broadcast live on NASA Television and online at www.nasa.gov/live.
Behnken and Hurley will fly to the station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A. The Demo-2 mission will serve as an end-to-end flight test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, from launch to docking to splashdown. It is the final flight test for the system to be certified for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Liftoff is slated for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT.
The pace of prelaunch activities continues to pick up at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as teams prepare for the upcoming launch of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission — the first launch of astronauts from America’s premier multi-user spaceport in nearly a decade.
On the Demo-2 flight test, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT.
Late Friday night, May 15, the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived at Launch Complex 39A after making the trek from its processing facility at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
This Wednesday, Behnken and Hurley will fly from their home base at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to the Florida spaceport. The agency Flight Readiness Review begins at Kennedy the following day.
Demo-2 will serve as an end-to-end flight test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, and is the final flight test for the system to be certified for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This will be the first launch of American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station since the final flight of the space shuttle in 2011.
The latest activities at the Florida spaceport included attaching the aeroshell backshell on April 29 and attaching the rover to its rocket-powered descent stage on April 23 inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The rover and descent stage were the first spacecraft components to come together for launch — and they will be the last to separate when the spacecraft reaches Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.
The backshell carries the parachute and several components that will be used during later stages of entry, descent and landing. The aeroshell will encapsulate and protect Perseverance and its descent stage during their deep space journey to Mars and during descent through the Martian atmosphere, which generates intense heat.
April saw other key rover milestones reached at Kennedy. On April 14, the
descent stage — fully loaded with 884 pounds of fuel (a hydrazine monopropellant) — was rotated and spun on two separate measuring fixtures to pinpoint its center of gravity. This will help ensure the descent stage remains stable while guiding Perseverance to a safe landing.
On April 6, NASA’s Mars Helicopter, recently named Ingenuity, was attached to the belly of the rover. Weighing less than four pounds, the twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will be released to perform the first in a series of flight tests that will take place during 30 Martian days (a day on Mars is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth). Ingenuity will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.
Thanks to the enduring efforts of NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) engineers, Perseverance remains on track for its targeted launch period, which opens in just six weeks. The rover will liftoff aboard a ULA Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.
After the rover enters the thin Martian atmosphere, the descent stage will complete the slowing of Perseverance to less than two miles per hour. At about 65 feet over the Martian surface, the descent stage — utilizing a tether of nylon cords — will lower Perseverance to the surface of Jezero Crater. The rover will then sever the cords and the descent stage will fly away.
About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance will carry seven different scientific instruments. Developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, the rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
A legacy of the Apollo Program and shuttle era, Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the site of NASA’s return to the Moon and is now ready for Artemis I—an uncrewed mission around the Moon and back. For the past few years, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) has modified and upgraded the launch pad for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to help accomplish NASA’s lunar exploration goals.
“Getting the pad ready for Artemis I has transformed the site for a new generation of space exploration,” said Regina Spellman, EGS senior project manager for Pad 39B. “When I look back on when we first inherited it from the Space Shuttle Program to where we are today, I am so proud of all the amazing things that the team has accomplished.”
Engineers have replaced or upgraded pad subsystems used for Apollo and the Space Shuttle Program to support the powerful SLS rocket and multi-user spaceport. The guiding principle behind the upgrades and modifications has been to make the area a clean pad, one with no launch support structures on top, which will allow a variety of rockets to launch from the pad.
“The Ground Systems architecture with a clean pad concept minimizes the time the vehicle is out at the pad, exposed to the elements. It also minimizes the amount of exposed infrastructure that has to be maintained between launches,” Spellman said.
The basics that every rocket needs are in place, such as electrical power, a water system, flame trench and safe launch area. The other needs of individual rockets, including access for workers, can be met with the towers, such as a mobile launcher.
During the refurbishment projects, teams removed and replaced 1.3 million feet of copper cables with 300,000 feet of fiber cable. The water tower for the upgraded sound suppression system holds roughly 400,000 gallons of water, or enough to fill 27 average swimming pools. At ignition and liftoff, this water is dumped on the mobile launcher and inside the flame trench in less than 30 seconds. The three lightning towers surrounding the pad are each about 600 feet tall – taller than the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is 525 feet tall. They form a linked system of wires above the pad that will protect the launch vehicle during storms.
The refurbished flame trench — the size of one and a half football fields — and new flame deflector will be exposed to a peak temperature of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit during launch. Technicians installed more than 96,000 heat-resistant bricks on the walls of the flame trench during the refurbishment project.
“The EGS pad team has already ramped up to prepare the pad for the second Artemis mission when we will launch humans,” Spellman said. “Several projects are underway, some even under construction, which will support the flight crew.”
Work now is in progress on a new liquid hydrogen tank as well as an emergency egress system for Artemis II, the first crewed launch.
Apollo 10 was the first mission to begin at Launch Pad 39B when it lifted off May 18, 1969, to rehearse the first Moon landing. Three crews of astronauts launched from the pad to the Skylab space station in 1973. Three Apollo astronauts who flew the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission to link up in space also launched from the pad in 1975. In all, 53 space shuttle missions and the Ares I-X test flight launched from the pad between 1986 and 2011.
“The work and the team itself has evolved over the years, but one thing has always been constant, we have always been dedicated to getting Launch Pad 39B back to launching humans to space, farther and safer than ever before,” Spellman said.
Behnken and Hurley will fly to the station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. Liftoff is slated for May 27 at 4:32 p.m. EDT.
Building on last year’s uncrewed Demo-1 flight to the station, Demo-2 will be an end-to-end test of SpaceX’s crew transportation system, paving the way for NASA to certify the system for regular crewed flights to the orbiting laboratory. This capability, in turn, will maximize the station’s use as a scientific platform unparalleled on Earth.
“This is a high priority mission for the United States of America. We as a nation have not had our own access to the International Space Station for nine years,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “At the same time, we’ve had American astronauts on the International Space Station for 20 years in a row, and they’ve been doing these absolutely stunning experiments and discoveries and advancing the human condition from the microgravity of space.”
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program team has worked in partnership with SpaceX for many years to reach this point, according to Kathy Lueders, CCP manager, and Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer.
“I want to make it clear that this is one of many exciting and hard days that we have in front of us,” Lueders said. “Gwynne’s team and my team are diligently working on getting the vehicles ready; making sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in our analysis, test data, assessments; going through all the reviews. We’re making sure that we are ready for this important mission to safely fly Bob and Doug up to the International Space Station and return them to their families.”
“We’ve worked closely with NASA since 2006,” Shotwell said. “All that work is culminating in this historic event coming up in just a few weeks.”
One critical milestone was completed today: the 27th and final test of Crew Dragon’s enhanced Mark 3 parachute design. The parachutes will play a key role in the safe landing of the crew when the spacecraft returns to Earth.
Behnken and Hurley both are veterans of two space shuttle flights, having been selected as astronauts in the same class – the 2000 astronaut class. Behnken served as a mission specialist on STS-123 and STS-130, while Hurley was the pilot on STS-127 and STS-135 – the final flight of the program. Today, they’re preparing for their first flight together on a momentous mission.
“It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand-new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend, here, Doug Hurley,” Behnken said of his friend and crewmate, seated beside him.
“It’s a great honor to be part of this mission,” Hurley added. “It’s amazing after all this time to be less than a month away from launch down in Florida.”
Behnken and Hurley truly are embarking on a test flight. While Crew Dragon is docked to the space station, mission controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will work with the crew to carry out a series of test objectives.
“This is really to shake down and demonstrate that all the preparations and the emergency capabilities we’ve built into this vehicle have made it reliable — as a lifeboat in a contingency aboard [station] and it’s always there as a backup to get crew members down to the ground if needed – but also reliable to carry crew members up and down on a regular and repeatable basis,” said Zeb Scoville, NASA Demo-2 flight director.
One unexpected challenge the teams have had to manage is how to deal with the arrival of the novel coronavirus. Even in the midst of the global pandemic, mission preparations have continued – with precautions. Those precautions – such as social distancing – extend to launch viewers, too.
“We won’t have the luxury of having our family and friends being there at Kennedy to watch the launch. But, obviously, it’s the right thing to do in the current environment,” Hurley said. “We want everybody to be safe. We want everybody to enjoy this and relish this moment in U.S. space history, but be safe and enjoy it from a distance.”
Current plans call for the astronauts to arrive at Kennedy a few days prior to liftoff for one final launch dress rehearsal.
“This is a very exciting time,” Bridenstine said. “The International Space Station is a critical capability for the United States of America; having access to it is also critical. We are moving forward very rapidly with this program that is so important to our nation and, in fact, to the entire world.”