Technology

How to watch two NASA astronauts journey home in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule

This afternoon, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are scheduled to begin their journey again to Earth inside SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon, bringing an finish to their historic flight to the International Space Station. If all goes to plan, the two will splash down in the Crew Dragon off the western coast of Florida on Sunday afternoon.

Getting again to Earth from orbit isn’t any straightforward process, and the two astronauts have a protracted journey forward of them earlier than they’re again on strong floor. Once Behnken and Hurley undock from the house station, they’ll spend the following 18 hours in orbit, slowly distancing themselves from the ISS, earlier than making the dive into Earth’s ambiance. That begins a harrowing journey down to the floor, because the Crew Dragon experiences excessive temperatures reaching up to 3,500 levels Fahrenheit and slows down from 17,500 miles per hour.

Things get underway this afternoon, when Behnken and Hurley climb contained in the Crew Dragon and shut the hatch at round 5:45PM ET. They’ll stay inside till the scheduled time for undocking at 7:34PM ET. Hooks holding the Crew Dragon in place on the Station will retract, releasing the capsule into house. Right after that, thrusters on the Crew Dragon will do two fast burns in order to separate out farther from the ISS.

A pair hours after undocking, the Crew Dragon will do one other engine burn to put the automobile on the trail towards its deliberate touchdown web site. Right now, NASA and SpaceX are focusing on a splashdown off the coast of Pensacola, on the sting of Florida’s panhandle in the Gulf of Mexico. The location is one in every of seven potential websites round Florida the place the Crew Dragon may land. NASA and SpaceX would somewhat the Crew Dragon land on the east facet of Florida, close to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, Tropical Storm Isaias is projected to skim jap Florida this weekend, forcing Behnken and Hurley to head farther west. If Pensacola doesn’t work out, the Crew Dragon will head towards a backup web site outdoors of Panama City. If both location works out, this would be the first time a spacecraft has touched down in the Gulf of Mexico.

After that closing burn, it’s a protracted wait till issues choose again up once more. Behnken and Hurley will attempt to get some sleep in a single day forward of their scheduled descent via the ambiance on Sunday afternoon. At round 1:44PM ET on Sunday, SpaceX will jettison a giant chunk of the Crew Dragon forward of the touchdown: the capsule’s trunk. It’s a cylindrical piece of {hardware} hooked up to the again finish of the capsule, offering assist throughout launch and offering additional room to carry cargo. It additionally homes all the photo voltaic panels that generate energy for the Crew Dragon throughout flight. But when it comes time to land, SpaceX doesn’t want the trunk anymore, so it separates and falls into Earth’s ambiance, the place it burns up.

At 1:49PM ET on Sunday, the ultimate descent begins. The Crew Dragon will burn its thrusters once more, taking the capsule out of orbit and setting it on track for Earth. That begins a really fast collection of occasions. The Crew Dragon will begin to warmth up because it falls via the ambiance, whereas the capsule’s outer warmth protect ought to defend the automobile and the crew inside. The quantity of heated plasma that builds up across the capsule is so intense that it truly triggers a communications blackout that may final up to six minutes.

The ambiance helps to cushion the Crew Dragon’s fall, slowing it down immensely. But the capsule wants just a little additional assist to get down safely. At an altitude of roughly 18,000 ft, two drogue parachutes will deploy from the capsule when it’s shifting at round 350 miles per hour. These small chutes gradual the capsule down to about 119 miles per hour forward of the principle parachutes deploying. When the Crew Dragon reaches an altitude of 6,000 ft, 4 huge pink and white parachutes will deploy to preserve braking the automobile, permitting it to contact down gently in the ocean at round 2:41PM ET.

As quickly because the capsule is in the water, two SpaceX boats carrying dozens of individuals will meet up with the Crew Dragon. They’ll hoist the capsule out of the ocean, retrieve the parachutes, after which get Behnken and Hurley out into the contemporary air. The astronauts will then be airlifted to shore, thanks to a helipad on one of many restoration vessels. The helicopter will take them to a aircraft that may transport them again to Houston.

NASA’s protection of the touchdown will start at 5:15PM ET, simply earlier than Behnken and Hurley get contained in the Crew Dragon. The company will present steady stay protection all over the splashdown, exhibiting scenes from mission management facilities at each NASA and SpaceX. That approach, viewers can comply with together with each a part of Behnken and Hurley’s journey home.

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