SpaceX finds surprising heat-shield wear after NASA astronaut mission

  • After its first astronaut mission, SpaceX discovered an unexpected erosion on the heat shield of its crew dragon spaceship.
  • A SpaceX executive said crew members – NASA astronauts Bob Behanken and Doug Hurley were never in danger.
  • But as a precaution, SpaceX has updated the Heat Shield before launching its next crew in October.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX suffered unexpected damage to parts of its crew Dragon space capsule after its first astronauts were taken by spacecraft this summer, officials said Tuesday.

The Demo-2 mission sent NASA astronauts Bob Behanken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on May 30. The two men lived there for two months, then on August 2 saw a fire collapse into the Earth’s atmosphere to burst into the Gulf of Mexico. .

But after the company studied the toasted space capsule up-close, testers found something unusual: a deep erosion on the crew dragon’s heat shield.

That thermal protection system is a collection of heat-resistant tiles that draw down due to the weakness of the spaceship. It protects the crew dragon from absorbing and absorbing heat that can reach 500,500,000 degrees Fahrenheit when the space capsule sinks out of the atmosphere and forms a superheated plasma returning to Earth.

SpaceX expects to get some wear and tear, but not this much.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Spaceship Atmospheric Rentry Warm Plasma Heat Shield Earth Return YouTube SM

An illustration of SpaceX’s crew dragon spaceship returning to Earth with plasma glitter in front of its heat shield

SpaceX via YouTube

Hans Koenigsman, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday that “there was a little more erosion than we saw. “

Koenigsman said the affected part of the heat shield is close to the “tension relations” that connect the crew dragon to its large cylindrical trunk. (The trunk helps the spacecraft move forward in orbit but is thrown before the spaceship resumes.) One of the four areas around the tense relationship is Behankan and Hurley moved deeper from the hot plasma syringe as it returned to Earth.

Still, the spaceship and its crew returned home safely despite the unexpected problem.

“The astronauts were safe at all times and the vehicle was fully operational,” Koenigsman said.

NASA and SpaceX renew the Heat Shield for the next astronaut mission

Before Behankan and Hurley returned to Earth, Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX, said the rentry was part of the mission he was most concerned about.

NASA surveyed the heat shield for damage before the return flight, while the crew dragon capsule was still docked at the space station. During its two months attached to the orbital laboratory, small to large pieces of space debris can damage the ship’s heat shield. The observation was based on a robotic arm on the space station and some onboard cameras, but without any problems.

Only after Behanken and Hurley returned safely to Earth did SpaceX find a weak spot in its heat shield.

But these are the types of issues Behankan and Hurley had to find the flight in and out of ka iron.

While their demo mission was supposed to be there, the crew is preparing to take the crew on its first routine mission called Dragon Crew-1. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Waker and Japanese astronaut Sochi Noguchi are set to embark on the crew dragon on October 31.

NASA and SpaceX have already strengthened the sensitive part of the heat shield ahead of that flight, Koenigsman said.

SpaceX Crew 1

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (left to right) NASA Crew-1 Crew members: NASA astronauts Shannon Waker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, as well as JXA astronaut Sochi Noguchi.

SpaceX by NASA

“We’ve made a lot of changes to the good stuff,” Steve Stitch, program manager for NASA’s commercial crew program overseeing the SpaceX astronaut mission, told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve improved the area between these tiles.”

A wind tunnel at its AIIMS Research Center in California – NASA has tested five samples of the new tile in a favorable environment that mimics a reentry.

“I’m confident we’ve fixed this particular issue very well,” Koenigsman said. “Everything has been tested and he is now ready to go for the next mission.”

It is not clear why the excessive heat-shield erosion did not appear on the previous demo mission, a crowd test flight in which the crew launched the dragon, docked the space station and returned to Earth without any human passengers. Koenigsman speculated that the capsule did not have a problem because it was lighter and it was a slightly different route on the mission.

He said, “At the end of the day, it’s so nice that we got him on this ride.” “It wasn’t a completely insecure situation. It’s something we’ve observed and then, basically, changed to make sure nothing goes wrong.”