The Crew Dragon spacecraft, produced by private company SpaceX, is scheduled to return from the International Space Station (ISS) and splash down in the Atlantic ocean on August 2. Contingent on a favourable weather forecast and a successful final week at the ISS, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will begin the undocking procedure on August 1, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere the next day – a total of 64 days since lift off.
The historic launch took place on May 30 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, marking the first time a commercial space company has carried humans into orbit around Earth. But while the launch was a nail-biting experience to watch, reentry will be even more risky – presenting a tense moment for mission control. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that the reentry is indeed his “biggest concern”.
The joint SpaceX and NASA mission was successful in docking with the ISS, so that astronauts could complete scientific and maintenance work, including four spacewalks.
Importantly, the mission’s primary purpose is to test and demonstrate the vehicle’s capability to safely carry crew to and from Earth orbit, as the first step in the plan of commencing regular ISS missions and commercial space flights.
Reentry danger points
The extreme velocities and temperatures the vehicle must endure present a major challenge to engineers and makes reentry the most perilous part of a mission.
The danger starts with finding the right angle of the trajectory as the spacecraft enters the upper atmosphere. If it is too steep, the astronauts will experience potentially fatal g-forces, and the fricti