NASA, SpaceX Simulate Upcoming Crew Mission with Astronauts

Teams practice a full simulation of launching and docking SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts.
On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front) participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator.Credits: SpaceX

Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Teams practice a full simulation of launching and docking SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts.

On Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator.Credits: SpaceX

Over the last several months, key members of flight control teams working from NASA’s Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, simulated different phases of the upcoming mission while the Demo-2 astronaut crew practiced procedures from inside a realistic simulator of Crew Dragon.

“The simulations were a great opportunity to practice procedures and to coordinate decision-making for the mission management team, especially with respect to weather,” said Michael Hess, manager of Operations Integration for CCP. “Simulation supervisors do a great job at picking cases that really make the team think and discuss.”

Recent simulations saw teams execute timelines from hatch closure to undocking with the space station — as well as a free flight in preparation for re-entry and splashdown. In March, the control teams and crew ran through a simulated mission starting at prelaunch and continuing through ascent and eventual rendezvous with the station.

This recent sim makes the excitement all the more tangible, especially for the greater NASA team.

“What’s happening in commercial crew is a big deal,” Hess said. “It will be the first time to launch astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, and it will be the first time since STS-1 that we will launch astronauts in a new spacecraft. This new spacecraft, Crew Dragon, was designed and built by SpaceX, not by NASA and traditional contractor partnerships — another first. Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley) will definitely be earning their spacecraft test pilot wings with this mission. Also, the Space Station Program is really looking forward to another way to rotate crews to station to perform science and experiments to benefit all.”

As the countdown clock winds down, Crew Dragon is undergoing final testing and prelaunch processing in a SpaceX facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. All the activity is also kicking off “more simulations, final crew training and flight readiness reviews to ensure all of the mission systems and subsystems are ready for a crewed test flight,” Hess noted.

When Crew Dragon launches atop a Falcon 9 rocket with Behnken and Hurley strapped inside as early as mid-to-late May, it will herald a new era for human spaceflight, enabling greater access to low-Earth orbit and destinations beyond with the help of commercial partners.

The Demo-2 crew is proceeding with its scheduled training activities. Astronaut trainers, along with all NASA employees, are closely adhering to CDC recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus. As all NASA centers are currently operating in a mode that requires any non-mission-essential work to be done remotely, the number of employees in contact with the crew is limited.

Last Updated: March 31, 2020

Editor: Danielle Sempsrott

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