Published: Mon, March 04, 2019
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

SpaceX Crew Dragon, Built to Carry Humans, Launches Demo Flight

SpaceX Crew Dragon, Built to Carry Humans, Launches Demo Flight

The docking was carried out autonomously by the Crew Dragon capsule, as the three astronauts on board the International Space Station watched. The Dragon capsule, whose only passenger was a life-size test dummy, dubbed Ripley after the lead character in the "Alien" movies, was launched on Saturday from Cape Canaveral (inset) on its first test flight.

This beefed-up, redesigned Dragon is the first American-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to pull up to the station in eight years.

Behnken and Hurley, who attended the Demo-1 launch at the Kennedy Space Center, were at SpaceX mission control at its Hawthorne, California, headquarters for the Crew Dragon docking.

In less than a decade, SpaceX has become a key partner for NASA, in addition to dominating the market for private satellite launches.

"Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking", NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed from the station. The agency chose two companies for the unique public-private partnership to assure safe, reliable and cost-effective access to space while avoiding the perils of one provider having a monopoly.

Dragon first stabilized seven kilometers behind the ISS, and 2.5 kilometers below it.

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The nosecone of Dragon opened to reveal the docking port and forward-facing Draco thrusters, and the first of a series of burns to gradually match the ISS's orbit was completed. The second stage's thrusters carried Crew Dragon into a proper orbital trajectory. "We've got NASA "rocking" again", Trump tweeted.

As NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine pointed out on Saturday, the SpaceX test represents a "new era" for American space travel.

The spacecraft will remain attached to the orbiting outpost for a week, before undocking on March 8 and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, several hours later.

The launch comes nine years after NASA invested about £38million ($50million) into its Commercial Crew Program. After the shuttle programme was shuttered in July 2011 following a 30-year run, Nasa began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions. NASA and the Russians are discussing one last purchase, just to make sure USA astronauts have access to the station even if the start of space taxi service has to be delayed. "NASA now pays $82 million per seat".

This test flight didn't include crew - except for a high tech mannequin named "Ripley" - but it was meant to go through all the procedures of a crewed mission.

Furthermore, the crew variant of Dragon 2 is one of two spacecraft that will return domestic crew launch capability to the United States, the other being Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. The capsule is equipped with a life support system and an emergency abort system.

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