Crew Dragon lands safely, despite slowly inflating parachute [Updated]


Enlarge / NASA television from the Crew-2 landing shows three main parachutes deployed, with a fourth lagging behind.

NASA television

Updated Monday at 11:30 p.m. ET: Crew Dragon Effort safely splashed the northern Gulf of Mexico on Monday night, just south of Pensacola, Fla. The landing on the water capped a successful 199-day mission to the International Space Station.

The spacecraft’s return to Earth seemed nominal until 4 minutes before the landing, when the vehicle’s main parachutes deployed. Three of the four parachutes nominally exited, but the inflation of the fourth parachute was delayed by a fraction of a minute. Despite this, commentators on the NASA-SpaceX livestream reported that the inflation rate of the fourth parachute was normal and the spacecraft’s descent rate was nominal.

The crew emerged from the spacecraft less than an hour later, aboard a salvage vessel, no worse for wear and tear. Another Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA’s Crew-3 mission, is expected to launch from Florida in less than two days. It seems possible that this mission will be delayed due to the parachute problem observed on Monday evening.

“The team will leave and look at how the loading went on the chute and understand this behavior,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s chief human space flight operations officer, after landing. “This is behavior that we have seen a number of times in other tests, and it usually happens when the lines sort of bundle together until the aerodynamic forces open up and push the falls apart. Makes me a little more confident that the spacecraft loading and deceleration all seemed nominal. “

NASA and SpaceX will conduct a launch readiness review before the launch of Crew-3 on Tuesday, during which the parachute issue is sure to be the subject of extended discussions.

Original message: NASA and SpaceX plan to return a Crew Dragon spacecraft from orbit Monday night and launch another two days later, Wednesday night.

The agency’s crew flight plans have been evolving since just before Halloween, when weather issues and then a “minor medical issue” with one of the four astronauts on the Crew-3 mission delayed the launch of the rocket from October 31 to November.

Since then, NASA and SpaceX, which supplies the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch system, have evaluated a host of issues to determine the best way to launch the Crew-3 mission and bring back Crew’s four astronauts. -2 from the International Space Station.

Among the most important factors is the duration of the Crew-2 mission, launched on April 23, 2021. The Effort the spacecraft has now been in space for 199 days, which is pretty close to the vehicle’s certified mission duration of 210 days.

This weekend, the agency decided to postpone the landing of Crew-2 before the launch of Crew-3. NASA did so after evaluating the weather conditions at the landing sites for Effort in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the launch site weather for Crew-3. He also took into account the conditions along the ascension “corridor” across the North Atlantic Ocean, where an emergency recovery would need to be carried out when launching the mission.

On Monday morning, NASA released its finalized plan for the sequence of events. Effort, carrying NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, astronaut JAXA Aki Hoshide and European astronaut Thomas Pesquet, will undock from the International Space Station at 2:05 p.m. ET (7:05 p.m. UTC) on Monday. After undocking, Effort will fly around the space station to photograph its exterior, in part to provide health data from the exterior of the aging station.

Following this maneuver, Effort will begin the process of slowing down and returning to Earth orbit. It will land off the coast of Florida at 10:33 p.m. ET Monday (3:33 a.m. UTC Tuesday). NASA has not yet clarified whether the vehicle will land in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, as it is still evaluating seven possible locations for quieter seas.

Pesquet’s presence on the space station, in particular, will be missed. Over the past six months, the Frenchman has been a constant source of A-grade memes. From space.

Once Effort has landed and the crew has returned safely to Kennedy Space Center, NASA and SpaceX will turn their attention to the Crew-3 launch. This will require the rapid repositioning of sea-based assets, including vessels involved in recovery operations.

As a result, NASA is now targeting no earlier than 9:03 p.m. ET Wednesday (02:03 UTC Thursday) for the launch of Crew-3 from the Kennedy Space Center. Four astronauts will fly aboard Crew Dragon Endurance—NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, as well as European astronaut Matthias Maurer. Weather conditions appear favorable for a Wednesday night launch from Florida.

According to this schedule, the Crew-3 mission is expected to dock with the International Space Station on Thursday, and astronauts will spend the next six months in orbit performing various science and maintenance operations.