SpaceX launches Crew Dragon's first test flight

SpaceX launches Crew Dragon's first test flight

SpaceX launches Crew Dragon's first test flight

Cargo Dragon must be maneuvered with the station's robot arm.

It brings the nation one-step closer to the return of human launches to the space station from the United States for the first time since 2011 - the last space shuttle mission.

On this occasion, we will see the crew version of Dragon approach the station at the bow and dock automatically, using a new design of connection ring. During operational crew missions, Dragon will be able to carry approximately 50 kg of cargo to and from the station, in addition to the crew.

This Demo-1 mission is a critical test of the spacecraft, confirming the performance of its key systems and identifying any issues that need to be corrected before a crewed test flight, Demo-2, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board.

The first two post-launch milestones for Crew Dragon were successfully completed shortly separating from Falcon 9's second stage, as confirmed by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk during a post-launch press conference Saturday morning.

There was, however, no crew aboard the spacecraft, just a test dummy named Ripley, in a nod to the lead character in the Alien movies. "Right now, the date is July and that's what we're planning for, but if we change that date we'll make sure people know when it's the right time".

"This is a critically important event in American history", Jim Bridenstine, the head of the USA space agency, told reporters, with the rocket and capsule visible behind him on the legendary launch pad where the Apollo missions to the Moon began. Ripley is no mere dummy, but "an anthropomorphic test device outfitted with sensors to gather important data about what an astronaut flying aboard the spacecraft would experience throughout the mission", NASA says. "We may push a button or two to demonstrate that we have the capability to intervene if we need to, but the vehicle is pretty much going to do the work autonomously, just like it did today".

Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine left and Elon Musk CEO of SpaceX after the launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Saturday
APNasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine left and Elon Musk CEO of SpaceX after the launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Saturday

"We've got NASA "rocking" again".

SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded as crew Dragon pulled up and docked at the orbiting lab, almost 260 miles (400 kilometres) above the Pacific, north of New Zealand.

The announcement was met with applause at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. If that final phase of the test goes well, NASA astronauts could be heading into space aboard non-NASA rockets as soon as summer 2019.

But Musk has admitted that marketing travel in the Dragon capsule is not a priority - and he is more interested in distant exploration of the solar system.

Since then, it has been buying seats in Russian Soyuz rockets - the only ones capable of transporting humans there.

SpaceX and Boeing are part of the $8 billion Commercial Crew Program.


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