June 23, 2022

Dragon Returns: Crew Dragon Set to Fly Again

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is set to fly again after successfully landing on terra firma. The vehicle is scheduled for launch this Friday, March 8th, at 2:48am EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. This will be the first flight of a Crew Dragon since the company’s successful uncrewed test mission that took place in early 2019 and was followed by an anomaly-free crew demonstration mission in mid-2019.

Friday’s launch will follow up on this success of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule by flying a second uncrewed test flight. This time, however, the capsule will dock with the International Space Station to demonstrate that it can safely deliver a crew back to Earth after a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

While the first spacecraft is getting ready for launch, a second capsule has arrived at Florida’s Space Coast having completed altitude testing of its parachutes over Arizona, with the test being the final proof that the system will work as intended during Crew Dragon’s return to land.

The Falcon 9 is slated to lift off from Florida’s Space Coast at 2:48am EDT on Friday. The rocket will fly in its final version of the Block 5 configuration and deliver the capsule for a rendezvous with the International Space Station. After docking with the orbiting laboratory, a crew of two will board the Crew Dragon and spend four days aboard until returning to Earth for an ocean-landing on Sunday morning.

In case you’re wondering why there is another test flight after all of SpaceX’s unmanned demonstrations sent to the ISS, it’s because this one is strictly about testing the return of a crew.

For this, SpaceX has to prove that the spacecraft can slow down enough for its parachute system to work correctly under high-pressure conditions. That’s why it decided to drop the test vehicle out of an airplane flying at 35,000 feet and into Arizona’s Casa Grande desert.

This time around, SpaceX is reusing the capsule from its first test flight of Crew Dragon in early 2019. The spacecraft was refurbished and upgraded to be ready for a second mission just over a year after its previous launch. Test flights of the Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket have already been going on for a number of months, so SpaceX can look forward to this second launch without much delay.

Meanwhile, the next-generation Crew Dragon capsule has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center and is basically ready for its upcoming flight – even if it’s not the same one. The company’s press release yesterday didn’t make any mention of this second spacecraft, but SpaceX employees did say that it was there on social media.

The next Crew Dragon capsule to be used for this mission just completed altitude testing in Arizona and seems ready to join its sibling at Kennedy Space Center.