Brazilian Astronauts Riding in SpaceX Launch From Space

Two Brazilian helicopters are in orbit somewhere in the cosmos attached to the launch vehicle of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

The co-pilot there is Rafael Lyra, who thinks it’s a good thing the technical challenge to his job is a bit higher than riding above the Andes Mountains in a Super Tucano jet powered by four Pratt & Whitney engines, he said.

“The first job that I did was checking how well it could fit into its design,” Lyra said by email from Kazakhstan, where he is leading the work that’s taking place during a Soyuz flight in a launchpad equipped with an interplanetary cruise module called Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

The cargo on the spacecraft, which Musk will use for the first time on Sunday to launch the Tesla electric car company’s head of rocket development — who is not flying because the project was put on hold by the Falcon Heavy explosion during a test launch last fall — is a Soyuz-type Soyuz capsule carrying a Brazilian government research satellite to geostationary orbit, Lyra said.

While it is doing its work, the crew of three who are participating in the mission — flown by Lyra and German test pilot Mark Walton and co-piloted by Brazilian pilot Carlos Martins — will be in Earth orbit. A U.S. Coast Guard ship launched with the spacecraft from the American coastal town of Florianopolis is on the patrol and is within striking distance of the launch site.

“From what we understand, the scenario is for them to continue to deploy communication satellite into their intended orbit up to three hours after the landing,” Lyra said. “The longest duration will probably be about an hour at least.”

That may be a bit out of the norm for the group being launched by SpaceX, which became the first company to transport people and satellites into space, but after SpaceX’s dramatic blowup last September, the U.S. military had to be anxious about the safety of the launches, the cost of the flights and their reliability.

Following the explosion, SpaceX agreed to conduct monthly static fire firings of the Falcon Heavy, which is under development, by the end of May to prove that its rocket can be flown with increased levels of risk. SpaceX has been and continued to be the private spaceflight company with the lowest cost to launch payloads into orbit.

“Although it won’t involve as long a period of separation and reusability as has been proposed by SpaceX during static fire tests, the combination of two units has not been attempted in this region of space before,” Lyra said.

“Therefore, it will allow us to put a bit more stress on both the parachutes and the ground fuel for the engine,” he said.

In addition to the medical evaluations and the normal biopsies and urine tests for the crew to track the health of the Soyuz, they are also being instructed to do physiological testing to better understand how to deal with the presence of a U.S. Coast Guard ship and the astronauts to ensure a successful landing, and conduct a dental record check before returning to Earth.

“I think that it’s quite an operation,” he said. “The magnitude is quite significant.”

According to the Brazilian aerospace administration, ENAF, the mission will demonstrate the ability of Brazil to use SpaceX’s launches to carry its U.S. government and commercial satellite co-propellants from Earth orbit into a geostationary orbit. Brazil is also interested in launching Argentina’s COCOM satellite, a network of dense space broadband access satellites that will be launched by SpaceX in 2019.

The Brazilian astronauts have also had activities and meetings with Musk and the SpaceX people in California in preparation for the launch.

“We received a very generous hospitality from SpaceX and were given very much care and attention from the people who work there,” Lyra said. “So we have found a wonderful way to spend four days with them in California. It has also been fun to come back to Earth.”

This article was written by Brian Witten from The Miami Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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