SpaceX is set to make history on May 27, 2020.
On that date, Elon Musk’s company is scheduled to launch its first crewed mission, a test flight called Demo-2 that will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon capsule.
If all goes well with Demo-2, Crew Dragon and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will be validated for operational crewed missions, the first of which is expected to launch later this year.
Space.com has been covering the lead-up to this epic mission extensively. See videos, photos and stories here.
What’s Crew Dragon?
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is a crewed spacecraft designed to fly astronauts on round trips to the International Space Station for NASA.
In 2016, SpaceX picked NASA as one of two companies (Boeing was the other) to fly astronaut taxi missions to the space station. Crew Dragon is a crewed version of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft, an unpiloted vehicle that has been making resupply flights to the station for NASA since 2012.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will carry up to four astronauts on regular taxi trips, but the capsule itself can fit up to seven people in all. It launches into space on a Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX’s workhorse booster.
Related: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Space Capsule Explained (Infographic)
Both vehicles are reusable, with SpaceX regularly landing Falcon 9 first stages and flying them later. SpaceX has also reused several Dragon cargo vehicles and aims to do the same with Crew Dragon.
Unlike Cargo Dragon, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has an emergency abort system designed to separate the capsule from its rocket in the event of a launch emergency. SpaceX demonstrated that system in a successful test earlier this year.
Crew Dragon’s service module has a series of sleek fins, as well as solar arrays mounted directly to its hull, rather than in deployable panels like its cargo-only counterpart.
As odd as it may seem, Crew Dragon has two commanders.
The crew for Demo-2 are veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Behnken will serve as the mission’s joint operations commander while Hurley is Crew Dragon spacecraft commander. Both men have flown to space multiple times.
Robert “Bob” L. Behnken, 49, has flown two space shuttle missions to the International Space Station and served as NASA’s Chief Astronaut from 2012 to 2015. He launched on the STS-123 mission to deliver Japan’s Kibo laboratory to the station in 2008, and later flew STS-130 on Endeavour to deliver the Tranquility module. Behnken has performed six spacewalks and logged more than 29 days in space to date.
A native of St. Ann, Missouri, Behnken is a U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot with a doctorate from Caltech in mechanical engineering. He joined NASA’s astronaut corps in July 2000.
Behnken is married to Megan McArthur (also a NASA astronaut). They have one son. You can follow Behnken on Twitter at @AstroBehnken.
Douglas G. Hurley, 53, is retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who joined NASA’s astronaut corp in 2000 in the same class as Behnken. Hurley has flown on two shuttle missions, the STS-127 mission on Endeavour in 2009 and the STS-135 mission on Atlantis in 2011. Both missions hauled fresh supplies and gear to the station. Hurley’s second shuttle flight was NASA’s final mission of the space shuttle program.
Hurley hails from Apalachin, New York and served as a pilot and test pilot for the U.S. Marine Corp. He has degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in Louisiana and is married to fellow NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg. They have one son. Hurley has logged just over 27 days in space. You can follow him on Twitter at @Astro_Doug.
How it gets to ISS
On Demo-2, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will take about 19 hours days to reach the International Space Station.
After liftoff, it will take Crew Dragon about 12 minutes to reach its initial orbit. The first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket will return to Earth to land on a drone ship for future reuse.
Crew Dragon will spend a dozen of so hours chasing the space station, gradually raising its orbit to the 250-mile (400 kilometers) altitude of the International Space Station.
If all goes well, Crew Dragon will dock itself to the space station on Thursday, May 28, at 11:29 a.m. EDT (1529 GMT). It will link up with docking port on the station’s Harmony module, with hatches between the two spacecraft at 1:55 p.m. EDT (1755 GMT).
While Crew Dragon is designed to dock itself autonomously, Hurley will take manual command of the spacecraft during the rendezvous to test the vehicle’s flight systems.
How long’s the flight?
This is hard to say.
NASA and SpaceX have not released an exact date for Crew Dragon’s return to Earth for the Demo-2 mission. But we do know the mission will last at least one month, and possibly up to four months. The exact duration will depend on a few factors.
First, the mission’s duration will depend on Crew Dragon’s performance with astronauts aboard. If the spacecraft performs as planned, then there wouldn’t be any engineering concerns on that end.
Second, the duration will also depend on Demo-2’s follow-up mission, called Crew-1, which will be SpaceX’s first operational mission to the space station for NASA. The Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft is being built now. It will launch four astronauts to the space station later this year.
One thing that is certain: Crew Dragon has an expiration date. The spacecraft’s solar arrays are currently only rated for 119 days in space. That puts an end date on the Demo-2 mission in the fall for sure.
How it lands
Like its uncrewed counterpart, the Crew Dragon spacecraft is equipped with a heat shield and parachutes to return to Earth.
Once a landing day is identified for the Demo-2 mission, Behnken and Hurley will pack the spacecraft with items they may want to return to Earth and prepare for undocking. On undocking day, Crew Dragon will back away from the station and slowly make its way outside a so-called “keep-out sphere,” a safety zone around the orbiting laboratory.
Crew Dragon will then return to Earth the following day. Ahead of reentry, the spacecraft will jettison its stubby service module (which contains its solar arrays and other systems) and position itself heat shield down for the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere.
After reentry, Crew Dragon will deploy four parachutes to slow its descent further. The spacecraft will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean just of Florida’s East Coast where a SpaceX recovery ship will be ready to retrieve Behnken and Hurley within an hour after landing.
Crew Dragon future
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is not a one-customer vehicle.
While SpaceX will be one of two commercial companies to fly people to the space station for NASA (Boeing is the other), its Crew Dragon vehicle will not only carry astronauts for the U.S. space agency or its partners. SpaceX has made agreements to fly space tourists on the spacecraft, and use a Crew Dragon to ferry passengers to the space station for another company.
For the space tourist deal, SpaceX has an agreement in place with the U.S. space tourism company Space Adventures to fly four passengers on a free-flying mission Crew Dragon as early as late 2021. That mission will last five days and send up to four people an orbital experience unlike any space tourist flight to date. The cost of that flight as not been released.
SpaceX has also agreed to launch passengers to the International Space Station for the company Axiom Space, which is developing a new commercial module for the station. That mission will be a 10-day trip to the station for three private astronauts using a Crew Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX Crew Dragon reaches launchpad for historic NASA astronaut launch Crew Dragon has arrived at Launch Pad 39A ahead of next week’s launch.
SpaceX will make history with NASA astronaut launch next week. But will it draw crowds to Florida? NASA’s first crewed launch with a commercial partner was supposed to be a triumphant return for Florida’s Space Coast. As for so many milestones this year, a global pandemic has changed that calculus.
NASA astronauts arrive at launch site for historic SpaceX test flight Veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 20, ready to take off on SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 test flight.
SpaceX just one week away from launching 1st astronauts on Crew Dragon for NASA SpaceX is scheduled to launch Demo-2 next Wednesday (May 27), a mission that will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station.
Lost in space: Before SpaceX can ‘capture the flag,’ an astronaut had to find it It might be the most high-profile, if not also the highest game of “capture the flag” ever played.
NASA human spaceflight chief Doug Loverro resigns on eve of historic SpaceX launch NASA’s human spaceflight chief Doug Loverro has stepped down just a week ahead of a historic SpaceX crew launch for the U.S. space agency.
SpaceX’s 1st Dragon capsule for astronauts arrives at launch site for historic mission The spacecraft that will fly SpaceX’s first-ever crewed mission has reached the launch site ahead of next week’s epic liftoff.
Astronauts enter a routine quarantine for historic SpaceX Crew Dragon launch Astronauts entered quarantine on May 13 to prepare for a historic launch to space.
NASA and SpaceX are now less than two weeks from a historic crew launch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is less than two weeks from launching astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, but some big obstacles still stand in the way.
Astronauts to ride NASA-adorned Tesla Model X to SpaceX launchpad The first NASA astronauts to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket will have more than one new ride designed by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk: a Tesla Model X.
The NASA monopoly on US orbital spaceflight is ending NASA’s monopoly on American activities in low-Earth orbit is ending, and that’s just what the space agency wants.
NASA and ‘Kerbal Space Program’ challenge gamers to recreate historic SpaceX launch to space station NASA and the makers of “Kerbal Space Program 2” are looking for gamers with the right stuff to recreate SpaceX’s Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission.
Hey, Class of 2020! SpaceX and NASA want to launch your photo on historic Dragon flight If you’re a student, you can become a part of spaceflight history.
How SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission will work in 13 steps Here’s a step-by-step explainer of what will happen during SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon mission with astronauts, from prelaunch preparations to splashdown.
You can dock a SpaceX Crew Dragon at the space station in this free simulator If you always wanted to pilot a spaceship, here’s your big chance to simulate the experience.
After Demo-2: SpaceX is already prepping for 1st operational Crew Dragon mission SpaceX’s first crewed mission is just the beginning, and the company is already gearing up for what comes next.
With SpaceX’s Dragon, NASA astronauts will ride a new spaceship for the 1st time in decades It’s been nearly nine years since an American vehicle launched astronauts into orbit. This month, SpaceX and NASA aim to change that in an unprecedented test flight six years in the making.
How long will the 1st astronauts to ride SpaceX’s Crew Dragon be in space? No one knows exactly (yet). Two NASA astronauts will make history this month when they fly to the International Space Station in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. But how long their mission will last has yet to be determined.
Two NASA astronauts are ready to try something completely new: Ride a SpaceX spaceship NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are excited and prepared to launch to space this month.
How the coronavirus pandemic has affected SpaceX’s 1st crewed mission for NASA The coronavirus pandemic threw a pretty big curveball at the planners of SpaceX’s first crewed mission.
SpaceX aces final parachute test ahead of historic May 27 crew launch SpaceX wrapped up the 27th and final drop test of Crew Dragon’s upgraded parachute system on May 1, apparently clearing the path for the Demo-2 mission later this month.
‘Uphill battle’: SpaceX overcame obstacles on road to historic 1st crew launch The plan was always to have private spacecraft such as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon fill the space shuttle’s shoes, but it was far from clear that everything would work out.
SpaceX on target for milestone May 27 crew launch, safety panel says SpaceX remains on track to launch astronauts next month despite a few remaining issues, members of a NASA advisory panel said on April 23.
NASA chief to space fans: Don’t travel to Florida to watch SpaceX’s 1st astronaut launch As NASA tackles the coronavirus pandemic with the rest of the nation, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine urges and warns space enthusiasts to stay home for next month’s historic launch.
SpaceX, NASA target May 27 for 1st Crew Dragon test flight with astronauts SpaceX and NASA are targeting May 27 for the first launch of American astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil in nine years. They’ll fly on a Crew Dragon space capsule.
Take a wild ride with SpaceX in this ’emergency egress’ test for Crew Dragon (video) NASA and SpaceX took yet another step toward a historic crewed spaceflight next month, this time prepping for a worst-case scenario on the launch pad.
SpaceX encounters problem just before Crew Dragon parachute test SpaceX just experienced a hiccup in the leadup to its first crewed flight.
NASA’s famous ‘worm’ logo crawls back into action on SpaceX rocket NASA’s famous worm logo, which was retired in 1992, is roaring back to help celebrate the return of orbital human spaceflight to American soil.
SpaceX, NASA aim for historic crew launch in mid-May despite coronavirus outbreak Despite the coronavirus outbreak, SpaceX still plans to launch its first-ever crewed mission just two months from now.
SpaceX optimistic about May crewed mission as launch industry leaders monitor coronavirus Leaders in the commercial space industry are optimistic that the coronavirus outbreak won’t unduly affect the launch industry, while SpaceX is confident in a May timeline to loft humans for the first time.
SpaceX celebrates Crew Dragon’s 1st launch anniversary with epic video One year ago, SpaceX took a giant leap forward for private spaceflight with the launch of its first Crew Dragon to the ISS, and the company is celebrating that feat with an epic new video.
SpaceX Crew Dragon arrives at launch site for the 1st orbital crew flight from US soil since 2011 A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule arrived on Florida’s Space Coast on Feb. 13, completing a cross-country trek from the company’s California headquarters.
SpaceX may try to catch Crew Dragon capsules with a giant net. (No, really.) SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut taxis may not always cap their missions with ocean splashdowns.
Watch how SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch astronauts into space in this new video If you’re not yet hyped about the upcoming first crewed flight of SpaceX’s astronaut taxi, a new video could help get you there.
From the vault:
You may be interested in this 2011 story about SpaceX’s first commercial crew contract. And this 2014 piece details the company’s receipt of a $2.6 billion deal to complete development on the Crew Dragon-Falcon 9 system and fly six operational missions to and from the ISS for NASA. (Boeing got a similar deal, as that story reports.)
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.