SpaceX launches demo flight, with humans

Christopher Davidson
March 3, 2019

Despite SpaceX's success at recovering and reusing its rockets, NASA is insisting on brand new boosters from SpaceX for the crew capsule flights.

"I really believe in the future of space and I think it's important we become a spacefaring civilisation and be out there among the stars, and I think that's one of the things that makes people excited about the future", he said.

The switch from NASA owning spacecraft to paying private firms for a service was initiated under former president Barack Obama - but due to development delays, has come to fruition under US President Donald Trump.

NASA is anxious for reliable transit to and from the space station. TV cameras on Dragon as well as the station provided stunning views of one another throughout the rendezvous. The astronauts wore oxygen masks and hoods until getting the all-clear.

Among the estimated 5,000 launch spectators at Kennedy were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

"Just super excited to see it", Behnken said minutes after the link-up.

It is the latest in a series of tests the capsule must pass in order to get approval from Nasa to transport people. They anxious that if the uncrewed vehicle's computer malfunctioned, the Dragon might have crashed into the station - much as a Russian Progress cargo craft crashed into the Mir space station in 1997. While cargo Dragon spacecraft have been pulled in for their berthing with the station's robotic arm, the Crew Dragon is built to guide itself autonomously to its hookup. The capsule's nose cap was wide open like a dragon's mouth, to expose the docking mechanism.

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"Dragon confirmed in good orbit", SpaceX confirmed at 3:00 a.m. They burst into applause again, several minutes later, when the Dragon's latches were tightly secured.

On this mission, the only passenger is a dummy, a smart dummy named Ripley. The craft will remain docked for five days before de-orbiting and splashing into the Atlantic at the end of next week.

This includes demonstrating the on-orbit operation of avionics, communications, telemetry, life support, electrical, and propulsion systems, as well as the guidance, navigation, control (GNC) systems aboard both Falcon 9 and Dragon. SpaceX and Boeing are leading that charge, so the successful Crew Dragon launch represents a major milestone moment.

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.

Kirk Shireman, manager of Nasa's International Space Station programme, said: "You'll hear us talk about this being a flight test; it absolutely is".

After the shuttle program was shuttered in 2011 after a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions. The US government is also eager to have the ability to fly to the ISS without buying seats on Russian Soyuz capsules.

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