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.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk posted the 2.5-minute animation on Twitter on Dec. 29, 2019. It takes viewers through many of the key phases of the Demo-2 mission, during which the company's Crew Dragon capsule will ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.
SpaceX will be cleared to prep for Demo-2 in earnest after Crew Dragon passes a key in-flight test of its abort system, which is designed to get astronauts out of harm's way in the event of a launch emergency. The in-flight abort test is currently scheduled to take place on Jan. 11 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The capsule that will fly Demo-2 should be ready to go shortly thereafter, Musk said in another Dec. 29 tweet: "Crew Dragon should be physically ready & at the Cape [Cape Canaveral, Florida] in Feb, but completing all safety reviews will probably take a few more months."
Demo-2 will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket and carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for an eight-day stay. The capsule will then bring the space flyers back to Earth for a parachute-aided ocean splashdown.
The end of the video shows the final stages of the capsule's descent, with a ship — likely the recovery vessel that will pluck Crew Dragon out of the sea — bobbing below. There's an interesting tidbit at the very beginning of the animation as well: An astronaut getting ready to board Crew Dragon gets out of a car with "falcon-wing" doors — presumably a Tesla Model X, which features this unusual design.
This detail shouldn't come as a surprise; Musk runs Tesla, so it makes sense that he'd want to cross-pollinate in this way. And he's done it before: The February 2018 debut flight of SpaceX's huge Falcon Heavy rocket launched a Tesla carrying a spacesuit-clad mannequin dubbed Starman into orbit around the sun.
If Demo-2 goes well, Crew Dragon can start to fly operational missions to and from the ISS for NASA. SpaceX is contracted to fly six of these flights with the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon under a September 2014 deal, which awarded the company $2.6 billion.
Boeing got a similar, $4.2 billion contract at the same time. The aerospace giant will fulfill this deal with its CST-100 Starliner capsule, which launched for the first time last month. That mission, the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT), was supposed to dock with the ISS. But a glitch with Starliner's onboard timing system prevented that rendezvous, and the capsule zoomed around Earth by itself for two days before coming down for a successful touchdown on Dec. 22.
Crew Dragon aced its version of OFT, the Demo-1 mission, in March of last year.
- SpaceX's Crew Dragon Demo-1 Test Flight in Pictures
- SpaceX's Starship Project Not Affecting Crew Dragon Flights for NASA, Elon Musk Says
- SpaceX Fires Up Rocket in Prep for 1st Astronaut Launch with Crew Dragon (Photo)
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.