Space

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Crew Dragon set to return on August 1
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission will return U.S human spaceflight to the International Space Station from U.S. soil with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on an American rocket and spacecraft for the first time since 2011.
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission will return U.S human spaceflight to the International Space Station from U.S. soil with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on an American rocket and spacecraft for the first time since 2011. Credit: SpaceX (Creative Commons CC0 Waiver)

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are coming home. SpaceX's Crew Dragon is set to return home to Earth on August 1 and splashdown is targeted for August 2. The actual date though is depending on the weather.

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NASA's JWST launch date postponed to Oct. 31
In a recent test, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed its primary mirror into the same configuration it will have when in space.
In a recent test, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed its primary mirror into the same configuration it will have when in space. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has a new official launch date: October 31, 2021. NASA announced a delay of JWST in early June but hadn't given a new date then. The delay is due to technical difficulties and the impact of COVID-19.

In a statement released by NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, described Webb as the "world's most complex space observatory", adding NASA had "worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic."

Zurbuchen reassured that "the team continues to be focused on reaching milestones and arriving at the technical solutions that will see us through to this new launch date next year."

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The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is scheduled for July 30th launch date
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (Public Domain)

Soon it will be "go for launch" for Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. On July 30, NASA's new Mars rover will go on its seven-month-long journey to the Red Planet. The launch had been postponed a couple of times because of technical difficulties and setbacks related to COVID-19.

Perseverance will land in Jezero Crater where it will search for "signs that microbes might have lived on Mars long ago, collect soil samples to be returned to Earth on a future mission and pave the way for human exploration beyond the Moon."

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"Just keep roving, roving, roving" – NASA's Curiosity is taking a mile-long Mars road trip this summer
Stitched together from 28 images, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured this view from "Greenheugh Pediment" on April 9, 2020, the 2,729th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the foreground is the pediment's sandstone cap. At center is the "clay-bearing unit"; the floor of Gale Crater is in the distance.
Stitched together from 28 images, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured this view from "Greenheugh Pediment" on April 9, 2020, the 2,729th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the foreground is the pediment's sandstone cap. At center is the "clay-bearing unit"; the floor of Gale Crater is in the distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is going on a road trip this summer. Curiosity has already started it's mile-long trip to a part of Mount Sharp called the "sulfate-bearing unit" where it will search for "clues how climate on Mars and its prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago."

Curiosity travels with a speed between 82 to 328 feet per hour. The rover will complete part of the trip on autopilot but can't make the trip "entirely without humans in the loop." According to Matt Gildner, the lead rover driver at JPL, Curiosity has "the ability to make simple decisions along the way to avoid large rocks or risky terrain" and it only stops if it doesn't have enough information to complete a drive on its own."

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Rocket Lab 13th launch fails after second stage malfunction
Rocket Lab - Pics Or It Didn't Happen Launch
Rocket Lab - Pics Or It Didn't Happen Launch Credit: YouTube (Reproduction)

The Rocket Lab's mission ‘Pics or It Didn’t Happen’ failed after the second stage of the Electron rocket carrying seven satellites malfunctioned after launch from New Zealand on Saturday, suddenly slowing down and losing altitude. Rocket Lab confirmed the vehicle and its payloads were lost, but no official indication of what went wrong was immediately available.

CEO Peter Beck tweeted after the failure: "We lost the flight late into the mission. I am incredibly sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today. Rest assured we will find the issue, correct it and be back on the pad soon."

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Rocket Lab to launch a seven-satellites rideshare mission Saturday
Electron Rocket
Electron Rocket Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab to launch a rideshare mission Saturday using its Electron rocket. The launch, which is named ‘Pics or It Didn’t Happen’, is scheduled to happen between 21:19 - 22:03 (UTC) from the company's New Zealand spaceport.

The mission is Rocket Lab’s third flight this year, and it includes seven small satellites from several different companies.

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Mars rover delayed again, launch no earlier than end of July
In this image, taken on June 13, 2019, engineers at JPL install the starboard legs and wheels — otherwise known as the mobility suspension — on the Mars 2020 rover.
In this image, taken on June 13, 2019, engineers at JPL install the starboard legs and wheels — otherwise known as the mobility suspension — on the Mars 2020 rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The launch of NASA's next Mars rover has been delayed once again. This time the delay is due to "a liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the wet dress rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate." NASA expects the rover to launch no earlier than July 30.

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Virgin Galactic flies second SpaceShipTwo test at New Mexico spaceport, clearing the way for powered spaceflight
SpaceShipTwo "Unity" at rollout event on 19 February 2016
SpaceShipTwo "Unity" at rollout event on 19 February 2016 Credit: Ronrosano (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Virgin Galactic completed the SpaceShipTwo's second glide flight test in New Mexico on Thursday. The unpowered flight went off without a hitch and saw the spacecraft hit new speeds, as the company presses ahead with its testing program at Spaceport America.

The company announced that after completing a data review of Thursday's flight, it will begin preparing for full rocket-powered test flights.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Virgin Galactic said it expected to begin commercial operations during summer, and announced to shareholders that the company goal is to be profitable by next year.

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Another delay in launch of NASA's Mars rover Perseverance
In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019.
In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech / Public domain

Perseverance's launch has been delayed by two days to July 22. The announcement came after engineers found issues with ground support equipment but both the spacecraft and vehicle "remain healthy."

In an official statement, the agency wrote: "NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft. Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF)."

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NASA headquarters to be renamed after its first female African American engineer, Mary W. Jackson
Mary Winston Jackson (1921–2005) successfully overcame the barriers of segregation and gender bias to become a professional aerospace engineer and leader in ensuring equal opportunities for future generations.
Mary Winston Jackson (1921–2005) successfully overcame the barriers of segregation and gender bias to become a professional aerospace engineer and leader in ensuring equal opportunities for future generations. Credit: NASA

When Mary W. Jackson started working for NASA in 1958, she was the first female African American engineer at the agency and now, 62 years later, the NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. will be named after her. Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, was a key figure in influencing the hiring and promotion of women at NASA and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.

Jim Bridenstine announced the renaming of the agency's headquarters building on Wednesday and praised Jackson's time at the agency: "Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology."

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SpaceX to launch third Starlink mission in a month
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Credit: 2nd Lt. Alex Preisser/USAF (Public Domain)

SpaceX is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket as part of the Starlink 9 mission this Thursday. The launch is planned for 20:39(UTC) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This will be the third Starlink launch in June alone, bringing the size of the growing constellation to around 600 satellites and closer to the threshold of 800 required for some limited broadband service to begin.

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110 people needed to start colony on Mars, scientists find
110 people needed to start colony on Mars, scientists find
Credit: unsplash.com/Nicolas Lobos

Mars won't be too crowded. French Professor Jean-Marc Salotti (Bordeaux Institut Nationwide Polytechnique) found that a small community of 110 people is sufficient to set up a self-sustaining colony on Mars. The settlers would live in an oxygen-filled glass dome where they would have to focus on building an agricultural industry to provide for themselves.

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Space Perspective plans to take tourists to the stratosphere
Space Perspective plans to take tourists to the stratosphere
Credit: Space Perspective

Space Perspective wants to make space tourism happen. The company plans to transport up to 8 tourists in a high-altitude, hydrogen-filled balloon to the stratosphere to get a view from an altitude of 100,000 feet. The ballon, called "Spaceship Neptune", has a pressurized cabin and will include both a bar and a restroom.

Test flights with research equipment will start in 2021 and, if all goes well, tourists can board the Neptune in three and a half years.

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"Ring of Fire" solar eclipse to happen on June 21
Annular eclipse in New Mexico, 2012
Annular eclipse in New Mexico, 2012 Credit: Kevin Baird / CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

On June 21, an annular "ring of fire" solar eclipse can be seen in parts of Africa and Asia, while a partial eclipse will be visible in Europe and northern Australia. A "ring of fire" eclipse happens when the moon covers the view of the Sun partially, leaving a glowing ring around the moon.

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SpaceX has until July 15 to prove Starlink could qualify for $16 billion federal funding
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Credit: 2nd Lt. Alex Preisser/USAF (Public Domain)

SpaceX's Starlink network of low-Earth orbit small satellites plans to compete for the rural broadband funding, a $16 billion federal funding auction. To qualify for the auction the FCC requires that participants demonstrate latency under 100 milliseconds until July 15.

On a public notice released on June 11, the FCC stated it had "serious doubts that any low-Earth orbit networks will be able to meet the short-form application requirements for bidding in the low-latency tier".

SpaceX's announces it could have latencies around 20 milliseconds.

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Rocket Lab carries payload for NASA and NRO into orbit
Rocket Lap - Electron Rocket Launch
Rocket Lap - Electron Rocket Launch Credit: Screenshot Rocket Lab YouTube

The spacetravel company Rocket Lab has successfully resumed its operations and carried a payload for NASA, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office and the University of New South Wales Canberra into orbit. Being pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Electron rocket has been successfully launched from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

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SpaceX launched more 58 Starlink satellites, and three Planet SkySats hitched a ride
Deployment of SkySats during June 13 launch
Deployment of SkySats during June 13 launch Credit: SpaceX (Reproduction)

Earlier today SpaceX successfully launched its first rideshare mission into orbit, lofting a new batch of 58 Starlink internet satellites along with three Planet SkySats before landing the Falcon 9 rocket on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Planet satellites are part of that company’s existing SkySat constellation, which includes just over a dozen washing machine-sized craft that generate high-resolution images of our home planet.

The launch was the second Starlink mission so far this month, with one more on the schedule for no earlier than June 22.

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Kathy Lueders named as NASA's new head of Human Spaceflight Office
NASA’s Kathy Lueders participates in a post-launch news conference inside the Press Site auditorium at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020
NASA’s Kathy Lueders participates in a post-launch news conference inside the Press Site auditorium at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020 Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Director of NASA's Commercial Crew Program Kathy Lueders has been named as the next associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who announced Lueders' promotion on Friday, spoke highly of her: "Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024."

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Pittsburg-based Astrobotic awared US$200 million by NASA to deliver VIPER to moon
VIPER will  be tasked to prospect for natural lunar resources, especially water ice within a permanently shadowed region near the lunar south pole.
VIPER will be tasked to prospect for natural lunar resources, especially water ice within a permanently shadowed region near the lunar south pole. Credit: NASA / Public domain

VIPER is going to roam the moon soon. Today, Pittsburg-based lunar logistics service provider Astrobotic was awarded US$200 million by NASA to send the rover to the moon in 2023. VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, is going to explore the lunar surface, mapping its resources and looking for water ice. Under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services private companies will be paid to send payloads to the moon.

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NASA's JWST launch postponed due to COVID-19
Ball Aerospace lead optical test engineer Dave Chaney inspects six primary mirror segments, critical elements of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, prior to cryogenic testing in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala
Ball Aerospace lead optical test engineer Dave Chaney inspects six primary mirror segments, critical elements of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, prior to cryogenic testing in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on yet another industry. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was supposed to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope with improved infrared resolution and a broader range of astronomical and cosmological investigation in March 2021, but due to the ramifications of COVID-19, the launch was postponed. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, told the Space Studies Board of National Academies that the pandemic had slowed down the work on the spacecraft, making the March 2021 launch date impossible. A new launch date has yet to be announced.

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon will return to Earth with astronauts Behnken and Hurley
Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken (right) at crew extraction rehearsal from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon
Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken (right) at crew extraction rehearsal from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls / Public domain

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will return to Earth from the ISS on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft in August. Their exact return date will depend on numerous factors such as weather conditions, the astronauts' work progress onboard ISS as well as the overall condition and performance of Crew Dragon.

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The D.C. BLM mural can be seen from space
Screenshot of Planet's Tweet showcasing the BLM mural in DC
Screenshot of Planet's Tweet showcasing the BLM mural in DC Credit: Planet via Twitter

The Black Lives Matter mural in D.C. was spotted by Planet, a SF-based observation satellite company. Planet posted an image to Twitter, showing a satellite view of downtown D.C. with the Black Lives Matter mural painted on the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza clearly visible. The company has also voiced support for the BLM movement earlier this month.

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Kathy Sullivan: First American woman who walked in space successfully dove to lowest point on earth
Dr. Kathy Sullivan, former astronaut and Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at a panel discussion in 2013
Dr. Kathy Sullivan, former astronaut and Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at a panel discussion in 2013 Credit: ENERGY.GOV / Public domain

Kathy Sullivan, age 68, a former NASA astronaut on multiple missions with the Space Shuttle and the first American woman to walk in space has successfully completed a mission to the lowest point on earth. By doing that she has become the first woman to reach the lowest point on earth, Challenger Deep inside the Mariana Trench around 10,9km below the surface. Sullivan is also the only person in the world to walk in space and reach the lowest point on earth.

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Starship rocket is the top priority for SpaceX
Starship | First test vehicle
Starship | First test vehicle Credit: SpaceX (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

As SpaceX employees and fans all over the world celebrate the success of the Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission that launched two American Astronauts off American soil to the International Space Station just last week, Elon Musk emailed the SpaceX staff to remind them of the next major goal they should turn their attention to.

“Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship”

The CEO underlined that Starship development progress needs to be accelerated "dramatically and immediately". As the company just fulfilled its first promises by delivering Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station as part of the commercial crew program, it will now be able to allocate significantly more resources, in terms of both staff and finance to the development of the Starship program.

In his email, Elon also re-assured his employees that those who are considering moving to Texas in order to better support the companies new objectives, will be able to shuttle using a dedicated SpaceX aircraft.

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SpaceX sets record with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket

10 years ago, SpaceX launched its self-landing rocket Falcon 9 for the first time. After its few initial fails, the company made history by landing the rocket, offering the world some spectacular images to be remembered by generations to come.

This Thursday, the 4th of June, SpaceX reached two new milestones using its reusable rocket system. By launching its Falcon 9 rocket and deploying a new batch of 60 Starlink satelites, the company reached the incredible milestone of 5 flights and landings of the same orbital-class rocket. As this was Falcon 9's 85th launch, it has now become the most flown operational rocket in the United States.

Moreover, the company is estimated to have saved roughly $232.5 million from this one Falcon 9 rocket alone, as the re-usability of the launch vehicle saves around $46.5 million for each successfully landed flight.

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2020 Strawberry Moon lunar eclipse occurs today
Full moon, so called "Strawberry moon" viewed  from Tochigi prefecture, eastern Japan.
Full moon, so called "Strawberry moon" viewed from Tochigi prefecture, eastern Japan. Credit: On-chan (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Today's lunar eclipse that begins at 17:45(UTC) and lasts until 21:04(UTC) will be a "penumbral eclipse," which occurs when the outer ring of Earth's shadow just grazes the moon.

This subtle lunar eclipse will be entirely visible for observers in eastern Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia and Australia. It will start at moonrise for those on the eastern coast of South America, western Africa and Europe, and at moonset for skywatchers in Japan and New Zealand.

The full moon in June is called a Strawberry Moon because it coincides with the strawberry harvest. In Europe, an old name for this full Moon is the Mead Moon or the Honey Moon.

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SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink satellites
SpaceX Logo
SpaceX Logo Credit: YouTube (Reproduction)

SpaceX has launched on Wednesday another 60 internet-beaming satellites, bringing the company's constellation to around 480.

One of the 60 Starlink satellites has a visor system installed to block the sun from reflecting off of its communication antenna surfaces. If the system works, it should greatly reduce sunlight reflected off of the satellite back to Earth, one of the major criticisms from astronomers.

Also, this was the fifth launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, achieving a new record in booster reusability for the company.

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SpaceX Starship "hops" expected in coming weeks, launch debut still on track for 2020
Starship | First test vehicle
Starship | First test vehicle Credit: SpaceX (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

SpaceX's Starship is undergoing extremely fast-paced development in South Texas, Boca Chica Beach where the 5th, 6th and 7th prototypes are currently being assembled, some of them about to be ready for testing.

On Friday, May 29th the 4th Starship prototype had just successfully completed a static fire test, when liquid methane was being spotted leaking in huge quantities. Shortly thereafter the liquid methane ignited and detonated the Serial Number 4 build of Starship, with steel debris being propelled all around the development and testing area.

In an interview by Spiegel, Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX and veteran employee of 18 years stated among other things, that despite the latest deveopments he expects the first test flights of 150 m altitude hops to happen in the coming weeks. Moreover, he stated that with the tests going according to plans, Starship is still predicted to debut its orbital launch by the end of 2020.

While Starship SN4 performed an "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly" as SpaceX employees and fanatics often call a rocket exploding beyond repair, the next prototype in line SN5 is effectively complete and ready for testing.

Per Koenigsmann, the first Starship 150m flight could debut by the end of June 2020.

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NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 capsule docked with space station at 14:16(UTC)
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 capsule docked with space station at 14:16(UTC)
Credit: SpaceX (Reproduction)

The Dragon capsule docked at the International Space Station at 14:16(UTC), slightly ahead of schedule, 422km above the border between northern China and Mongolia. The completion of the docking procedure happened at 14:30(UTC).

Science • Space
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 capsule set to dock with space station at 14:30(UTC)
Astrounauts Bob Behnken (far) and Doug Hurley (near)
Astrounauts Bob Behnken (far) and Doug Hurley (near) Credit: NASA (Public Domain)

The Dragon capsule launched yesterday from Cape Canaveral will dock to the International Space Station at 14:30(UTC). Although astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are on board, the docking procedure should be fully automated.