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By Ather Fawaz
Boeing will continue to support the ISS through 2024 under a new contract extension
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Jim Watson (AFP), Getty Images Back in 1993, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected Boeing as the prime contractor for the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, the two companies have collaborated on advancing scientific research onboard the space station and human spaceflight in general.
Now, Boeing announced that it will continue supporting the ISS through September of 2024 under a $916 million contract extension that was awarded today. Valued at about $225 million annually, under the contract, apart from managing the ISS' many stations, Boeing will provide resources, engineering support services, and personnel activities aboard the space station as well. Furthermore, the new contract can be extended beyond 2024.
Apropos the contract extension, Boeing Vice President and Program Manager for the ISS, John Mulholland, commented:
Boeing has also been involved in other initiatives in advancing human spaceflight. It is currently one of the two contenders for the NASA Commercial Crew program alongside SpaceX. Its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is currently in development for the purpose of ferrying astronauts to the ISS. The firm is also building the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System whereby it hopes to make space travel to lunar orbit and Mars a tangible reality.
By Ather Fawaz
Perseverance Rover's launch window pushed back to July 22
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA JPL We're within touching distance of the commencement of Perseverance's voyage to Mars. But the launch has been pushed back a couple of days. In a recent update, NASA and United Launch Alliance announced that they are now targeting Wednesday, July 22 for the rover's launch. A two-hour window will be available at 9:35 AM ET at the Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The initial plan was to launch the rover on July 17 but that was later delayed to July 20 due to ground system equipment issues. Now the latest update pushes the launch window back by two more days to July 22.
According to NASA, the latest change in dates was caused by a "processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft" due to the time "needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility." The space agency clarified that the ATLAS V rocket and the rover are mission-fit.
Perseverance is slated to touch down at the Jezero Crater on Mars somewhere in February 2021, which will make it the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately re-target its point of touch down during the landing sequence. Once there, the rover will begin exploring ancient habitable conditions, potential microbial life, and more on the red planet.
By Ather Fawaz
A dive into SpaceX and Crew Dragon's maiden crewed flight to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
The Falcon 9 takes to the skies.| Image via NASA/SpaceX On Saturday, May 30, courtesy of Demo-2, SpaceX became the first privately-owned company to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Saturday was also a historic moment for NASA and the United States. After a hiatus of nine years following the discontinuation of the space shuttle program back in 2011, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley boarded the Crew Dragon capsule and took flight from American soil on a journey to the space station.
A scrubbed launch
Although Demo-2 was initially scheduled for Wednesday, May 27 at 04:33 PM EDT, the launch was scrubbed, with just 17 minutes left on the clock before liftoff, due to the Tropical Storm Bertha that was brewing off the coast of the Carolinas. The next launch window available to NASA and SpaceX was Saturday, May 31 at 03:22 PM EDT, an hour earlier than the Wednesday window.
In the following days, the weather continued to be unfavorable with cancellation likelihood as high as 50 to 60% even for Saturday. However, the situation improved and the final weather reports deemed the conditions to be approximately 70% favorable. This time, Behnken and Hurley, ensconced in their seats in Crew Dragon, were given the go-ahead.
Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida
At 03:22PM EDT, Saturday, May 30, Dragon took flight atop the Falcon 9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A in Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Launch Complex 39A was a fitting place for Crew Dragon’s maiden crewed flight to the ISS as it is the same place the Saturn V launched humanity to the Moon and from where the first and final Space Shuttle missions lifted off as well.
A closeup of the Falcon 9 as it takes off. Image via NASA HQ Photos (Twitter) After lift-off, the Falcon 9 rocket powered through the ascent stages. Approximately a minute after launch, Max-Q, a point where the Falcon 9’s atmospheric flight reaches maximum dynamic pressure, was achieved.
Falcon 9 achieves Max-Q |. Image via NASA/SpaceX A minute and a half later, the main engine cutoff (MECO) occurred, and Stage 1 of the rocket detached from Stage 2. From here on, the flight pathways of Dragon and the Falcon 9’s boosters diverged.
Stage 1 separates from Stage 2. Image via NASA/SpaceX
Following the infamous flip maneuver, the Falcon 9’s first stage initiated its entry burn around the 7-minute mark to slow down for its descending back into the Earth’s atmosphere. On the other hand, second stage cutoff 1 occurred (SECO-1).
Midway through the tenth minute after launch, the Falcon 9’s booster entered its landing burn and completed a vertical touchdown at sea on the drone ship. Three minutes later, Dragon separated from Stage 2 and began its voyage towards the International Space Station.
Falcon 9's booster lands vertically back to the Earth. Image via NASA/SpaceX
What followed was a journey just shy of 19 hours. During this period, we had several interesting events onboard, including the appearance of ‘Tremor’, the toy Apatosaurus dinosaur which was seen floating inside the Dragon capsule. The astronauts cherry-picked Tremor from their sons’ toys to take with them to the ISS.
Tremor floating in the Crew Dragon |. Image via NASA/SpaceX Hurley and Behnken also announced that they had named their capsule Endeavor due to their first flights onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor and as a memento of the decommissioned space shuttle program. In addition to this, Behnken and Hurley also got some time to hit the hay before the final approach to the ISS began.
The Crew Dragon docks at the ISS. Image via NASA/SpaceX While the Crew Dragon was designed to dock at the space station with little human intervention, Bob Hurley piloted the spacecraft until 220 meters from the docking ports. From here on, they gave up control and let the automated docking system take over. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docked at the ISS on Sunday, 31 May at 10:16 AM EDT, 13 minutes ahead of the scheduled time of 10:29 AM EDT.
Dragon's docking makes it the fifth vehicle parked on the space station currently. A few hours later, the hatch was opened and Hurley and Behnken boarded the ISS. They were welcomed by NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoli Ivanishin who embraced them upon entry.
A docked Crew Dragon spacecraft waits before opening the hatch |. Image via NASA/SpaceX With the first part of the test mission complete, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are now officially a part of the ISS Expedition 63. They are expected to stay on the space station from six to sixteen weeks, with the exact dates for departure depending on NASA's mission directives.
Behnken and Doug are welcomed onboard the ISS. | Image via NASA/SpaceX Of course, the Dragon capsule will undergo a series of tests at the ISS as well. The Endeavor will be once again put to the test when it begins its fiery descent back towards the Earth, where it all started from, in a few months' time.
By Ather Fawaz
Launch America: Your succinct guide to Crew Dragon and SpaceX's ongoing flight to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
[Author's note] Updates will be posted at the end of the article as the situation unfolds.
The Falcon 9 lifted off at 03:22 PM EDT carrying with it the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Image via SpaceX livestream Wednesday May 27 is slated to be a watershed moment for the United States and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA). Since the discontinuation of the space shuttle program back in 2011, for the first time in nine years, a crew of astronauts, namely Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will lift off from American soil onboard the Crew Dragon to embark on a voyage to the International Space Station (ISS).
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Image via NASA/SpaceX Wednesday is also set to be a pivotal point for one private company in particular – SpaceX. Founded and headed by Elon Musk, SpaceX with its Crew Dragon spacecraft has been a prime contender for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that launched a decade back. The overarching theme of the program? To outsource the development of the next generation of space capsules to privately-owned firms. This will help cut corners with taxpayer money and do away with the expense of ferrying astronauts from Kazakhstan inside the Russian Soyuz capsule.
Image via NASA/SpaceX Two contenders have been the frontrunners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX. For now, odds are in the favor of Crew Dragon and SpaceX at a time when luck has not entirely been on Boeing’s side. The company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has run into issues in a background that is marred by an already failing venture with the Boeing 737 MAX – an aircraft that once promised so much. Having said that, Crew Dragon had its fair share of issues as well, particularly in the later stages of development.
Image via NASA/SpaceX Impressively, the Crew Dragon is set to be the third spacecraft in history to transport a crew to the ISS. The other two are the phased-out space shuttle and the venerable Soyuz capsule. Compared to the Soyuz, which can only house three astronauts, the Crew Dragon can cater to a maximum of seven astronauts on board. This can significantly cut costs as the net per head expenses of transporting astronauts decreases with increased capacity.
Image via Everyday Astronaut Come Wednesday, the maiden, manned test flight dubbed Demo-2, will verify whether Crew Dragon is fit for ferrying astronauts to the ISS. For clarity, the Crew Dragon spacecraft docked at the space station back in 2019, but that was an unmanned journey. If Demo-2 is a success, the Crew Dragon can potentially begin its service as early as September this year.
Preparations for Demo-2 are already underway and have picked up pace this week starting with the arrival of Behnken and Hurley to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once settled in, the astronauts underwent a complete launch day rehearsal clad in their spacesuits after the Falcon 9 rocket successfully completed its static fire tests the day before.
Image via NASA/SpaceX Image via NASA/SpaceX Earlier today, SpaceX and NASA gave a go-ahead to the launch after the spacecraft successfully passed the Launch Readiness Review. With all preliminary tests successfully complete, Demo-2 is only a waiting game now.
Image via NASA/SpaceX With Behnken and Hurley on board, Crew Dragon will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A, which is a monumental site. It’s the same place the Saturn V launched humanity to the Moon and from where the first and final Space Shuttle missions lifted off as well.
Falcon 9's static fire tests complete. Image via NASA/SpaceX Barring any weather hazards or unforeseen circumstances, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is slated to take flight at 04:33 PM EDT (20:33 GMT). In case of any special circumstances, SpaceX has two alternate launch windows available on May 30 and May 31 as well.
You can tune into NASA TV or the official live stream of NASA for Demo-2. Details for that can be found here. Here’s a handy website with which you can convert the official timings to your time zones, should you need it.
Demo-2's flight details. Image via NASA/SpaceX Here's a succinct rundown of flight events given by SpaceX's Benji Reed. In summary, Crew Dragon will culminate the first part of Demo-2 by docking at the International Space Station on May 28, meanwhile, Falcon 9 will complete its journey back to the earth via a vertical landing.
The firm has uploaded a short video showing the simulated docking of the Crew Dragon to the ISS. This would complete the mission to ferry astronauts from American soil to the space station for the first time in nine years after the space shuttle program was discontinued back in 2011.
Demo-2 is called off on Wednesday, May 27 due to unfavorable weather
Unfortunately, with under 17 minutes to go to the planned launch at 04:33 PM EDT (20:33 GMT), NASA and SpaceX have decided to call off Demo-2 due to unfavorable weather. The relevant authorities and engineers were already monitoring the weather situation for the last couple of days and the official figures were oscillating between a low 40-60% for a favorable condition.
Now, SpaceX and NASA will be aiming for a launch on Saturday, May 30 at 03:22 PM EDT (19:22 GMT). This launch window was one of the two alternatives available to Demo-2 in case of any unforeseen circumstances such as this one. The second alternative is Sunday, May 31.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley waited for all the propellant to be emptied from the Falcon 9 rocket before the hatch opened for them to evacuate the spacecraft. Thankfully, no problems were reported thus far in the Falcon 9 rocket or the Crew Dragon capsule; bad weather seemed to be the only cause for the cancellation.
Final preparations for the Saturday launch are underway
Image via SpaceX SpaceX and NASA are preparing for the second launch window, which is Saturday 03:22 PM EDT. While all systems and equipment checks have been cleared, the weather is still precarious. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that there's a 50% chance of a cancellation. With this in mind, there's another launch window available tomorrow, Sunday, May 31. Further down the lane, June 7 and 8 are reserved as well, but NASA is pushing for earlier launch windows as well.
You can tune in to NASA's 24/7 live stream on their official YouTube channel. Prelaunch streaming has begun. NASA and SpaceX officials have held a press conference where Bridenstine reassured that the safety of astronauts of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley is a top priority despite the importance of the Commercial Crew program in cutting corners with taxpayer money. He also lauded SpaceX founder Elon Musk for bringing vision and commitment to the Commercial Crew program.
The Crew Dragon lifts off!
The Falcon 9 lifted off at 03:22 PM EDT carrying with it the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Image via SpaceX livestream After finally going through with the launch, Crew Dragon has launched atop the Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket is officially on its way to the International Space Station now. Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 booster has vertically landed back on earth, as expected, after it dropped the Crew Dragon off in orbit about 12 minutes after launch. Now, the astronauts have a 16-hour journey to the space station before them. If things remain on schedule, the spacecraft is expected to dock at the ISS around 10:30 AM EDT on May 31.
Falcon 9 booster lands back on earth successfully. The spacepod carrying the astronauts detached and is on its way to the ISS now. You can watch the events below as they unfold live on NASA's live stream of the entire event.
How are you preparing for #LaunchAmerica? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and SpaceX are a go for Crew Dragon's historic launch on Wednesday
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA SpaceX and NASA have confirmed that tomorrow's Crew Dragon launch is a go after the spacecraft officially passed the final flight readiness review. The spacecraft will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board who will be making a trip to the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA and SpaceX gave the go-ahead after successfully completing the pre-launch flight checks. These include a dress rehearsal, strapping Hurley and Behnken into the rocket, and a full-length static test fire of the Falcon 9’s engines.
However, weather conditions on Wednesday will prove to be a linchpin for the exact launching time. If things go according to plan, SpaceX's Crew Dragon will lift off on the Falcon 9 rocket Kennedy Space Center in Florida from Launch Complex 39A on May 27, Wednesday (May 27) at 04:33 PM EDT (20:33 GMT).
But the conditions are only 40% favorable for a launch attempt on schedule for Wednesday as of now. Having said that, there are two alternative launch windows available on May 30 and May 31, respectively.
Astonauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Image via NASA The historic launch will be the first time that astronauts launch from American soil after the discontinuation of the space shuttle program back in 2011. It will also be the first human spaceflight for SpaceX's Crew Dragon, which is a part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Finally, it is also slated to be the 3rd vehicle ever to deliver crew members to the orbiting laboratory after the Space Shuttle and the Russian Soyuz space capsule.