SpaceX test-fires rocket ahead of Crew-2 astronaut launch for NASA

Science 17 April, 2021 - 09:47am 14 views

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The private spaceflight company conducted a static-fire test on Saturday (April 22) of its Falcon 9 rocket at Pad 39A here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The test is one of the last major milestones ahead of a planned launch on Thursday (April 22).

The routine preflight test kicked off the countdown to the highly-anticipated flight of the company's second operational mission of its Dragon crew capsule, called Crew-2. The spacecraft is bound for the International Space Station, carrying with it two NASA astronauts and one astronaut each from the Japanese and European space agencies. 

The test occurred as expected in the predawn hours on Saturday. Smoke and fire billowed briefly as the rocket's nine Merlin 1D engines were lit. The brief ignition, known as a static-fire test, is a standard part of prelaunch procedures and one of the last major milestones before liftoff.

The flight marks SpaceX's 11th mission of the year and the 2nd long-duration mission to launch from Florida. The rocket's first stage is expected to land on one of SpaceX's drone ships, "Of Course I Still Love You". Following a successful liftoff, the crew capsule will spend just under 24 hours trailing the space station before arriving at the orbital outpost early Friday (April 23).

In a shift from the company's previous two crewed missions, both the Dragon capsule and its launcher have flown before. Following the success of the Demo-2 mission, which launched two NASA astronauts to the space station in May 2020, NASA gave SpaceX permission to reuse both the crew capsule and the rocket on future missions. 

For this mission, the first stage is the same one that delivered the Crew-1 astronauts to space in November, and the Dragon capsule is the same one that Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew on last year. Its name is Endeavour.

In photos: SpaceX's Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station

With the Dragon capsule perched atop the rocket, the duo rolled out of the hangar and onto the launch pad at complex 39A on Friday morning (April 16). Standing 256.3 feet (78.1 meters) tall, the pair were lifted upright later that afternoon. 

Secured to the launch pad, teams were up early Saturday morning, loading the rocket with super-chilled propellants — kerosene and liquid oxygen — and then briefly ignited the first stage's nine Merlin 1D engines.

The engines briefly fired at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT), generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust while the booster remained firmly on the ground. Engineers reviewed the data before confirming they would proceed with the Falcon 9's planned launch attempt Thursday morning. 

The static fire test comes on the heels of a flight readiness review. On Thursday evening (April 15), NASA gave SpaceX the green light to proceed with launch preparations, with one exception.

During the preflight inspections, engineers noticed that more liquid oxygen was being loaded into the Falcon 9 than expected — a discrepancy that has been occurring without incident throughout the vehicle's flight history. 

With a successful static fire test now under SpaceX's belt, teams have likely cleared the issue and the rocket is ready to fly. A final launch readiness review is planned for Tuesday (April 20) to discuss any remaining unresolved issues before the launch. 

Following a successful liftoff on Thursday morning, SpaceX plans to land its first-stage booster on a floating platform at sea. If successful, it would mark the company's 80th booster recovery. 

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Three-Person Crew Lands Safely In Kazakhstan From ISS Mission

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty 17 April, 2021 - 07:10pm

Two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut have landed safely in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan following their six-month stint at the International Space Station (ISS).

Cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and astronaut Kathleen Rubins touched down as scheduled in the early morning hours of April 17, according to a live broadcast on the television channel of Russia’s Roskosmos space agency.

It was the first ISS mission for Kud-Sverchkov and the second for Ryzhikov and Rubins.

On April 22, the private firm SpaceX is scheduled to launch a four-person mission to the ISS, made up of astronauts from the United States, France, and Japan. It will be the first manned SpaceX mission to reuse the Falcon rocket and the Dragon crew capsule.

NASA recently began using U.S. private companies for transport to the ISS after years of relying on the Russian space program to reach the orbiting laboratory.

NASA has chosen SpaceX to build a lunar lander that the U.S. space agency says will return Americans to the moon. SpaceX beat out proposals by Blue Origin and Dynetics to win the $2.89 billion contract, NASA said on April 16.

NASA declined to provide a target launch date for the mission, known as Artemis.

SpaceX is developing a vehicle called Starship that will be used for the moon mission. A number of prototypes of the bullet-shaped 50-meter-tall rocket have exploded or crashed during test flights with no crew.

But CEO Elon Musk has been undeterred, saying Starship will succeed at carrying people and other tasks such as putting satellites into orbit.

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