SpaceX launched its first crewed voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) last month on May 30. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying NASA astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, they called ‘Endeavour’. The mission known as Demo-2 is a demonstration flight meant to test out the Dragon spacecraft in orbit to certify it works well for future operational missions. This week, Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, told reporters:
“Kind of hard to believe Endeavour’s been docked now for three and a half weeks. The vehicle’s doing extremely well as we put it through its paces.”
“We’re learning a lot about the vehicle, nothing that’s of any concern.” Stich also mentioned the teams at SpaceX’s mission control and astronauts at the space station have been “learning how to manage the systems, heaters and thermal performance as we go through the changes in the orbit” while Dragon Endeavour is docked to the ISS module. Stitch shared they are surprised that Crew Dragon Endeavour’s solar arrays are generating more power than expected. Dragon features solar panels at its trunk that have been out-performing what SpaceX officials had originally predicted. Initially, the company designed the spacecraft to withstand a couple of months in orbit, and said the crafts solar arrays could deteriorate if it remains docked longer. Stitch said that according to the data, Dragon could withstand in orbit for up to 114 more days more than its initial return target. “Right now, what we’re seeing is they’re really degrading a little bit better than predicted and so that’s what gives us the capability to stay on orbit for up to 119 days, 114 days or so docked,” Stich said.
Kenneth Todd, deputy ISS program manager at NASA, said that if all continues to go smoothly, NASA and SpaceX will return Behnken and Hurley home aboard Dragon on August 2.
The astronauts are actively inspecting the spacecraft’s performance in space, as engineers monitor the data from Earth. Dragon’s solar panels power is actively measured by turning ‘off and on’ the craft’s systems, “right now that’s looking very promising,” Stitch added.
On July 4th, the astronauts are tasked to sleep and live inside Crew Dragon for the day. This task will be a habitability test with four astronauts inside, performing everyday activities which include: eating, sleeping, going to the restroom -among other hygiene habits. The crew will also run through emergency procedures to assess how well the spacecraft is suited or what improvements should be made for future crews. SpaceX’s next mission, Crew-1, will deploy four astronauts aboard Crew Dragon, “One of the things we want to make sure of is how comfortable is the vehicle with all 4 crew members in. How able are you to do all the tasks you need to do with all 4 crew members in it and we’re getting ready to do that demonstration,” NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Spaceflight Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders said.