SpaceX’s new crew capsule aces space station docking


On Sunday, the ISS crew watched as Crew Dragon became the first American commercial space vehicle created to carry humans to dock at the station, according to NASA.

Crew Dragon will remain docked to the station until early March 8. It docked autonomously, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for help.

The demonstration mission of SpaceX's new Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked Sunday on the International Space Station, passing a key test before it can begin taking USA astronauts into space. Getting those spacecraft flying would mark the restoration of a USA crew-launching capability that was lost when the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

The Crew Dragon, carrying about 400 pounds of supplies and an instrumented astronaut test dummy nicknamed Ripley, approached the station from behind and below, using a carefully timed series of thruster firings to move up to a point about 500 feet directly in front of the lab complex.

If the six-day demo goes well, SpaceX could launch two astronauts this summer under NASA's commercial crew program.

During the rendezvous, Dragon went through numerous milestones, first coming into view at around 3,000 meters out, before approaching towards the Approach Elipsode and arrive at Waypoint 0.

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

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The space craft is owned by Elon Musk's SpaceX, a company hoping to take humans into space one of these days. That schedule may slip, however, depending on how much more the Dragon needs to be tweaked after the uncrewed test flight. The US government is also eager to have the ability to fly to the ISS without buying seats on Russian Soyuz capsules. They burst into applause again, several minutes later, when the Dragon's latches were tightly secured.

"We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011", said Bridenstine, who got a special tour of the launch pad on the eve of launch, by Musk.

After soft capture, Dragon's docking hardware automatically sealed itself with the station, completing a hard docking.

Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses, and to monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems throughout the flight.

Next up, though, is Boeing, which is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August.

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

Both companies have received billions of dollars from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts safely to and from the station. "NASA now pays $82 million per seat".