SpaceX is ready to return its first crew of NASA astronauts to Earth, but a potential tropical cyclone in the Atlantic could cause delays.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, called Endeavor, is scheduled to spill down the Florida coast on Sunday afternoon (August 2). Its crew, Bob Behnken and NASA’s Doug Hurley, are closing a historic two-month test flight, the first orbital journey by astronauts on a commercial spacecraft. Their spread will also mark the first landing of water by American astronauts from the Apollo-Soyuz mission in July 1975.
“Everyone keeps going” for a return, and we can̵7;t wait for Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to return to Earth, but of course, we have some outstanding weather, “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters Wednesday (July 29) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We look forward to seeing if this will be in the realm of what is possible.”
Related: How NASA and SpaceX’s Demo-2 make a historic splashdown
That “outstanding weather” referred to by Bridenstine is from the storm system from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) dubbed Potential Nine Tropical Cyclone. Current forecasts from the NHC put the storm system on Florida on Sunday just before the SpaceX spread time of the 2:48 pm EDT target (1948 GMT).
“We’re going to watch the weather very carefully,” said Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “We have a series of [landing] sites and many days in the future, so we’ll see this tropical storm … we’ll take kind of a day with it. “
Currently, Behnken and Hurley are due to cut off from the space station on Saturday evening at 7.35 pm EDT (2335 GMT) and prepare to go home. If all goes well, the Endeavor capsule will ignite its engines to leave orbit on Sunday for an afternoon flight.
In the photos: SpaceX’s historic SpaceX Demo-2 flight with astronauts
SpaceX has seven potential deployment sites across the Florida panhandle to choose from. They include offshore drop areas from Cape Canaveral, Daytona and Jacksonville on the east coast of Florida, and near Panama City, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Tampa on the west coast. Wave height, wind speeds, lightning, rain conditions and other factors all determine which SpaceX spill sites will be picked up.
“We’re really looking for two sites that want to go before they are cut,” Stitch said, adding that the agency will hold a final decision until an hour before they are unloaded, or even call a departure if needed. “The beauty of this vehicle is [that] we can stay attached to the space station. “
Behnken and Hurley launched May 30 on the SpaceX Demo-2 mission at the International Space Station. The mission is a two-month cruise to test whether SpaceX is ready to fly operational astronaut missions to NASA. SpaceX has launched unchecked cargo missions for NASA for many years and is one of two companies (Boeing is the other) with a multi-billion dollar contract to fly astronauts to the station.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft has gone well into orbit, NASA and SpaceX officials said. Demo-2 astronauts tested its ability to hold up to four astronauts at a time, with the only major known in front of them: a splashdown.
“That’s a really big deal,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX’s crew director. “It’s very important, and it’s part of that sacred honor we have to make sure we get Bob and Doug back home for their families, for their children and to make sure they’re safe.”
If bad weather seems likely to delay Sunday’s Dragon Stopping priest, NASA and SpaceX will postpone this weekend’s tethering to no earlier than Monday (March 3). August), with the spread likely to come a day later, Stitch said.
“So we’re going to have to assess the weather every day and just see things as things develop,” Stitch said. “We have a lot of opportunities here in August and we’re not in a hurry to get home.”
Even as SpaceX prepares to return Behnken and Hurley to Earth, the company is already preparing for its first operational mission, called Crew-1. The spacecraft for that mission is almost complete at the company’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California and will soon be shipped to Cape Canaveral, Reed said.
Crew-1 astronauts – NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi – are with the vehicle this week, Reed added. That mission is currently scheduled to launch at the end of September.
Yesterday, NASA also announced the four astronauts to launch on crew 2, SpaceX’s second operational flight, in early 2021. That mission will be launched by NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Akihiko Hoshide of Japan and Thomas Pesque of the European Space Agency. McArthur is married to Behnken, and her Crew-2 mission will launch on the same Dragon Endeavor ship as her husband said, NASA and SpaceX.
Meanwhile, as SpaceX prepares to return Demo-2 astronauts to Earth, NASA is counting on another important event: the launch to Mars.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is set to launch into the Red Planet tomorrow (July 30). The mission, which will collect samples of Mars for eventual return to Earth, send a helicopter and look for signs of ancient life, will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Air Force Station. ‘Cape Canaveral. The liftoff is set for 7.50 am. EDT (1150 GMT).
Editor’s Note: You can watch NASA’s Mars Rover Perseverance launch live here, courtesy of NASA TV. The webcast will start at 7 am EDT (1100 GMT). The SpaceX lift and spread of the Demo-2 crew will also be a live webcast.
Email Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.