SpaceX and NASA are tentatively aiming at a Saturday, August 1 return for the crew of the Dragon Endeavour.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley launched aboard the first crewed SpaceX Dragon mission on May 30. The pair arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) the next day and docked with the orbiting laboratory safely.
When the pair arrived, the length of their stay aboard the station was yet to be determined. NASA and SpaceX officials revealed that the length of their mission would be determined by how the Dragon spacecraft performed while docked with the ISS.
After several weeks of careful monitoring, it was determined that the spacecraft was performing better than expected, which allowed the pair to remain aboard the station for an extended stay.
Last week, NASA announced that it was preparing to bring Behnken and Hurley back on August 1 weather permitting.
The Dragon Endeavour with Behnken and Hurley will depart from the station at 23:34 UTC. NASA has planned for possible splashdowns at seven different locations off the coasts of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona, and Jacksonville. Depending on the final splashdown location selected, the journey back to Earth will take between six and 30 hours.
During the descent, the spacecraft will be traveling at over 28,000 kilometers per hour. It will experience reentry temperatures of almost 2,000 degrees celsius, heat that Behnken and Hurley will be completely insulated from inside Endeavour.
As the spacecraft reenters the atmosphere, the next major phase of the reentry will be the deployment of the Dragon’s four main parachutes.
Two drogue parachutes are first deployed at an altitude of around 5,500 meters with the spacecraft traveling at more than 550 kilometers per hour. The deployment of the drogue parachutes and aerodynamic forces acting against the spacecraft will slow its descent to approximately 190 kilometers per hour. The four main parachutes will then be deployed at an altitude of 1,800 meters leaving Endeavour with nothing more to do but gently splashdown in the ocean.
As soon as the Dragon Endeavour splashes down, two fast boats with SpaceX personnel will be deployed from the launch provider’s main recovery ship. From the minute they splash down until Behnken and Hurley are out of the capsule and in the recovery boat should not take more than 45 to 60 minutes.
The entire operation will be broadcast live by NASA. Coverage will start at 13:10 UTC on August 1 with a short farewell ceremony for Behnken and Hurley aboard the ISS.