SpaceX’s new crew capsule completes space station docking

SpaceX’s new crew capsule completes space station docking

Nasa and SpaceX celebrated the successful launch on Saturday of a new astronaut capsule on a week-long round trip to the International Space Station - a key step towards resuming manned space flights from U.S. soil after an eight-year break.

No one was aboard the Dragon capsule launched Saturday on its first test flight, only an instrumented dummy.

By then, the Crew Dragon was already orbiting earth at five miles per second and headed for a docking with the worldwide space station Sunday morning.

Demo-1 is the first test mission of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft and rocket designed for humans. It docked autonomously under the station astronauts' watchful eyes, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for berthing.

"Thank you on behalf of SpaceX", CEO Elon Musk tweeted in reply. The capsule will remain at the ISS for another five days.

The capsule from the California company founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk didn't include actual crew members - except for a life-size dummy named Ripley, who was named after the lead character in the "Alien" movies.

Routine crew missions to the space station could start later this year.

"This is a good day - first day of a new era for the next generation of space explorer", Saint-Jacques said during a live broadcast of the welcoming ceremony.

McClaine: "On behalf of Ripley, little Earth and myself, welcome to the Crew Dragon".

Crew Dragon also contains come 180kg worth of crew supplies and testing equipment.

Ever since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the US has been hitching rides to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Boeing, which is working on its own CST-100 Starliner craft for the Commercial Crew Program, has yet to launch an uncrewed test but is scheduled to do so no earlier than April.

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.

With the successful launch and docking procedure now behind it, only one important test remains for SpaceX's test flight: the return trip. Space travel is still a costly endeavor, but these capsules were developed in partnership with NASA and the price of a seat is about $30 million cheaper.

Next up, though, should be Boeing, NASA's other commercial crew provider. 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. The Starliner is now due to make its first uncrewed test flight no earlier than April, and its first crewed flight no earlier than August.

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