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Everything You Need to Know About SpaceX DM-2


Noah J. Michelsohn |
May 19, 2020

On May 27, 2020 at 3:33 p.m. CDT Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will launch to the International Space Station on the first crewed test flight of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission, known as Demo-2 or DM-2, will return human launch capabilities to the United States and pave the way for human exploration going forward.

Catch all the excitement of the launch - and activities leading up to it - on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

Launching a crewed vehicle comes with unique challenges and an added level of precision required. To learn more about the mission and how flight controllers have been preparing for the historic mission, we sat down with Zebulon Scoville, the lead NASA Flight Director for SpaceX Demo-2 to learn more about the mission and what will take place.

Roundup: What are the differences between DM-1 and DM-2?

Scoville: During DM-1, there were a lot of test objectives to demonstrate that the vehicle had the proper design and capabilities to fly to station and rendezvous safely without putting either vehicle at risk. For Demo-2, the primary focus is the crew capability of the vehicle and how to interface the vehicle with the crew. The vehicle itself will have improved life support systems and there will be objectives regarding emergency operations once the vehicle is docked to prove that the vehicle can serve as a lifeboat in the event that we would ever need to shelter the crew and bring them home safely.

Roundup: What role will Bob and Doug have on the way to station?

Scoville: As the vehicle approaches station, we are going to have a demonstration of the manual piloting capabilities of Dragon. During this demonstration, Bob and Doug are going to complete a simple maneuver to align the vehicle and prove they can control latitude in the event that there is ever a problem with the automated docking sequence.

Roundup: How have Bob and Doug trained to manually fly Dragon?

Scoville: Bob and Doug have been heavily involved in designing the test parameters for the manual pilot capabilities to ensure that we gain value in terms of understanding the vehicle’s flight characteristics as well as building that confidence that the crew can take control and remain safe in the event of an anomaly. Throughout this process they have used a cockpit trainer located at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California to practice flying and develop the specific procedures, maneuvers and test objectives.

Roundup: Is the crew on Station involved as the Dragon approaches?

Scoville: During DM-1, the main crew responsibility for monitoring the docking sequence and were prepared to issue commands if they saw an anomaly was the station crew. In this case, because Bob and Doug are on the vehicle, they have the prime responsibility to issue commands and the crew on station will be a backup.

Roundup: Is the mission controlled differently now that there is a crew on board?

Scoville: On cargo missions SpaceX is the only one operating the vehicle. Now that we have crew that will be going to station, there is a sphere of integrated operations. The main responsibility from launch through free-flight will be the SpaceX flight controllers in MCC-X. Once they enter the sphere of integrated operations as the vehicle approaches station, there will be a shared responsibility. If there are communications purely to Dragon and not how the vehicle come together with station, the SpaceX controllers will make those calls. Once they dock, Bob and Doug are station crew members so the responsibility for Dragon and the crew will come to Mission Control in Houston until the vehicle undocks to return to Earth.

Roundup: Is the mindset different when a crew on board?

Scoville: there is a different mindset to flying a vehicle when there is a crew on board. In the past, if there was a problem with the vehicle as it approached station, it was an easy decision to send that vehicle away. Having a crew on board requires a certain mental strength and a mindset of knowing that you have to protect the vehicle at all costs to bring your crew home safely. We have to be prepared for a situation where every action and decision is the difference between the crew coming home or not. We can simulate the heck out of docking and procedures, but a major part is the decision making and preparedness of the team on console.

Roundup: Once the crew leaves, what first time demonstrations will take place?

Scoville: A really important and unique demonstration will be using the first atmospheric reentry of the parachutes that SpaceX uses during crewed missions. The parachutes have been tested extensively through drop tests, but without actually launching into orbit, we have not been able to test them multiple times returning through the atmosphere. DM-2 will also be the first time that we will demonstrate the entire crew recovery process end-to-end. Each piece has been rehearsed and tested, but this will be exciting to see the crew from splashdown to return to Ellington all in one fluid motion.

Roundup: How has the flight control team prepared for this mission?

Scoville: Human spaceflight is something that we have a lot of experience with at Johnson and we have used that to really work with the commercial providers and make sure that we are all prepared to work together and ensure the safety of the crew. There has been a deliberate strategy to use simulations and training to test flight rules and procedures and make this mission as successful as possible.

Roundup: How has it been working with Bob and Doug leading up to the mission?

Scoville: Bob and Doug are the absolute right people for this mission. They come into it with humility, technical integrity, a sense of humor, and I think they motivate the team to be the best we can. For them, this mission isn’t about personal success, but rather it is about making the mission successful to restore American launch capabilities and for the safety and success of all future crews.

Roundup: What does this mission mean to you personally?

Scoville: For me, this mission is about recognizing that our responsibility goes far beyond delivering science or cargo, it goes to protecting Bob and Doug, returning them safely to Earth and restoring human launch capabilities to the United States. But while we have serious work ahead, I also want to convey my excitement and my pride in this team. This mission has been many years in the making and it is something the entire United States should be proud of.

SpaceX DM-2 is scheduled to launch on May 27, 2020 at 3:33 p.m. CDT. A live broadcast of the launch will appear on NASA TV, stay tuned to Roundup for broadcast details. 

Flight Director Zeb Scoville leads Expedition 58 Flight Controllers on Console during the maiden unpiloted SpaceX/DM-1 Mission of Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida for the Commercial Crew Program. Photo Date: March 2, 2019. Location: Building 30, FCR-1. Photographer: Robert Markowitz
Flight Director Zeb Scoville will serve as the lead NASA Flight Director for the historic Demo-2 mission. Photographer: Robert Markowitz
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station.
Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery.
Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery.
DM-2 Mission Patch
The mission patch for DM-2.
The worm logo returns on the Falcon 9 rocket that will be used to launch Crew Dragon.
The worm logo returns on the Falcon 9 rocket that will be used to launch Crew Dragon.