Sunday, 24 May 2020

The trajectory of the upcoming Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch, returning the US to crewed spaceflight

Photo: SpaceX

UPDATE: the Crew Dragon launch has been postponed to NET 30 May, 19:22 UT
Below is the original text and maps, which are however no longer valid!
New maps in a new, separate post.

If everything goes well, SpaceX and NASA will launch the Crew Dragon Demo-2 flight with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on 27 May 2020. The launch is slated for 20:33:33 UT (note: some sources now say 20:33:31 UT), from LC-39A.

This is a historic flight, because after a 9-year hiatus it will return NASA to a crewed flight capacity. It is the first crewed flight launching from US soil on a US rocket since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Over the past 9 years, US astronauts had to hitch a ride on Russian Soyuz spacecraft in order to get to space.

The Crew Dragon Demo-2 will fly this approximate flight trajectory, bringing it over Europe some 23 minutes after launch:

click map to enlarge
click map to enlarge

The times in the map above are in UT (GMT): for CEST add +2 hours; for BST add +1 hour. I created the maps using the (uncrewed) Crew Dragon Demo-1 test flight from March 2019 as a proxy.

Based on that same Crew Dragon Demo-1 flight, I estimate these orbital elements for the first orbit:

1 70000U 20999A   20148.85443285 -.00003603  11390-4  00000+0 0    03
2 70000  51.6423 089.9835 0122953  45.6251 315.4951 15.99554646    09

estimated initial orbit for launch at 27 May 2020, 20:33:33 UT

You can use this so called TLE (for an explanation of these numeric lines click here) to make pass predictions and maps of the trajectory in your local sky for your own location, using prediction software like HeavenSat.

Be aware that it is approximate: so allow for a possible error of 1-2 minutes in the time it will pass in your sky, and a small cross-track error (I expect this latter to be less than 1 degree, i.e. less than two moon diameters).

Weather willing,  the Crew Dragon containing the astronauts and the Falcon 9 upper stage will be visible from much of Europe some 23 minutes after launch.

Northwest Europe has it pass in twilight, but Dragon's tend to be bright, so twilight should be no problem and the Dragon and Falcon 9 should be easily visible by the naked eye, except perhaps from the British Isles where it is still quite light.

I do advise using binoculars once you have located the spacecraft, as the Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9 upper stage will be close together, and with binoculars you will see them separately (you can see some photographs of a pass of a just launched Cargo-Dragon and its Falcon 9 upper stage from March this year in an earlier post here).

If you are lucky, you might even catch some small corrective thruster firings as small "puffs", like in this movie which I shot of a pass of the Dragon CRS-20 in March this year (look for the "puff" going upwards around 05:13:00 UT in the video):

(the two slowly varying objects astride the Dragon and Falcon 9 stage in the video above are the two ejected solar panel covers. The Crew Dragon does not have these, as far as I know).

The Falcon 9 upper stage will be deorbitted some 55 minutes after launch, over the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.

photo: SpaceX

Below are my predicted sky tracks for a number of places in West and Central Europe, valid for launch on 27 May at 20:33:33 UT .

Times listed in the plots below are in local time (generally CEST, except for London which is BST). Please be aware that there is an uncertainty of about 1 to 2 minutes in the actual pass time!!! The track placement in the sky should generally be correct though. Bottom of the plots is either South or North, depending on the location (see the annotations on the plots).

Note added 25 May: the Heavens-Above webservice now provides you with custom predictions for the Crew Dragon for your observing site.














jmac said...

and oporto ; portugal ,,?

Unknown said...


Swaraj Roy said...

Will it be visible from Chennai, in India?

Swaraj Roy said...

Can it be seen from Chennai, in India?

Unknown said...

think we are 2 far away

René said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stef VDB said...

Hi. Very nice!
Can you please post an update on the new trajectory and launch time + visibility from Europe? Thanks in advance!

Gox77 said...

It would be great if you can add new trajectories for Saturday and/or Sunday..

Unknown said...

Unknown said...

Watch Launch Live

Denys JORGE said...

I just saw Falcon 9 from my rooftop ✨ Gascony forest, France. Good luck!