If everything goes as planned, SpaceX could soon become the first private space company to fly astronauts beyond Earth’s atmosphere. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the manned test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule — also known as the DM-2 mission — could take place as early as next April.
But before the next-generation transport pod can give astronauts a ride to the International Space Station (ISS), Crew Dragon needs to pass the DM-1 test flight — an unmanned mission aiming to demonstrate that the space vehicle is ready for its first living passengers.
Slated to take place this November, the mission envisions landing the spacecraft on a giant inflatable cushion so that the Crew Dragon can easily be refurbished for the in-flight abort test scheduled for early 2019, Teslarati reports.
Meanwhile, all of the future recovery missions conducted once Crew Dragon starts regularly ferrying astronauts to the ISS, and even deeper into space, will be performed by GO Searcher, notes Inverse. Each time the capsule re-enters the atmosphere, SpaceX will be sending this single recovery vessel to fish the human-carrying space pod out of the ocean — along with its passengers.
In order to prepare for this crucial task, GO Searcher has been busy performing sea trials and mock Dragon recovery tests to make sure everything is up to par. But that’s not all it’s been doing.
According to Teslarati, the veteran rocket recovery vessel underwent a serious make-over during the past year. Aside from the intensive training, GO Searcher has received major upgrades to ensure the Crew Dragon recovery process goes on smoothly.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of these upgrades is the large helicopter pad that SpaceX is building on the ship’s deck. Constructed in the central area of the vessel, the helipad is designed to transport people onto and off of the ship as quickly as possible.
“That helipad is a critical addition that will enable the rapid transport of astronauts, recovery experts, technicians, doctors, and more (perhaps even press) to or from the ship,” Teslarati explains.
Since the GO Searcher will be a long way from the coast of Florida during the recovery missions, making the ship accessible by air will allow engineers and medical teams to promptly intervene, safely carrying the astronauts to Cape Canaveral.
Aside from the helipad — which is still under construction — SpaceX’s primary recovery vessel for the Crew Dragon now also sports a massive white dome. Added to the front end of the ship before the start of July, the dome will likely serve communications or radar detection purposes.
.@SpaceX's East Coast #Dragon space capsule recovery vessel, GO Searcher, has finally reemerged after being off-grid past 10-days. Appears to be sporting new hardware. #SpaceXArmada #CrewedDragon ????: St John's Ship Yard, Palatka FL pic.twitter.com/CPR3P6DoWB— Cowboy Dan (@CowboyDanPaasch) July 4, 2018
Although not as glamorous as a giant shiny dome nor a brand-new helipad, GO Searcher has also been fitted with a custom-built hydraulic lift. This will hoist the Crew Dragon out of the water and place it on the ship’s deck, where it will eventually be taken ashore. Installed at the rear of the recovery vessel, the hydraulic lift has already seen some action during early preparatory tests.
“SpaceX has been extensively testing Dragon recovery operations with that particular rig throughout 2018, working with Commercial Crew astronauts, U.S. Air Force representatives, and NASA officials to ensure that the orchestration of those Dragon and crew recovery operations are down to reflex by the time technicians are called upon to perform the same tasks with real humans and hardware,” notes Teslarati.