SpaceX Dragon Capsule Travels and Docks at the Space Station and Returns to Earth

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Saturday, March 23, 2019
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The demonstration flight of America’s new astronaut capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon vehicle, launched by California’s SpaceX company, is designed to make the attachment autonomously. It is the latest in a series of tests the capsule must pass in order to get approval from NASA to transport people. All this particular mission is carrying is a test dummy and 90kg of supplies. The instrumented test dummy will remain in the capsule throughout the mission culminating in a Splashdown of Dragon SpaceX Capsule in the Atlantic Ocean on March 8, 2019. 

 

The instrumented test dummy will remain in the capsule throughout the mission


The Dragon will approach the 400km-high station from the front and use its computers and sensors to guide itself in. Astronauts aboard the ISS will be watching closely on HD cameras to make sure the capsule performs as it should, and be ready to intervene if it does not. The capsule will advance on the station slowly, stepping through a series of planned waypoints. US astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will be overseeing events from the station's big bay window, or Cupola. They have the facility to command the Dragon to hold, retreat and even abort a docking. Attachment will be made to a new type of mating adaptor connected to the ISS's Harmony module.

 

 Dragon Capsule

Dragon Capsule

 

The procedure is a step up for SpaceX because the cargo ships it normally sends to the lab have to be grappled by a robotic arm and pulled into a berthing position. The freighters do not have the sophistication to dock themselves. The Dragon capsule is due to stay at the ISS until Friday, March 8, 2019, when it will detach and begin the journey back to Earth. This is the phase of the mission that SpaceX founder Elon Musk says worries him the most – the fiery, high-speed descent through the atmosphere. The Dragon's backshell, or heatshield, has a somewhat irregular shape and that could lead to temperature variations across the base of the capsule at hypersonic speeds. "It should be fine, but that'll be a thing to make sure it works on re-entry," said Mr Musk. "Everything we know so far is looking positive. Unless something goes wrong I should think we'll be flying (people) this year; this summer, hopefully."


Elon Musk with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken who are scheduled to make the first crewed flight
Elon Musk with Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken who are Scheduled

to Make the First Crewed Flight

The American space agency wants to contract out crew transport to SpaceX. Whereas in the past, Nasa engineers would have top-down control of all aspects of vehicle design and the agency would own and operate the hardware - the relationship with industry has been put on a completely new footing. Today, Nasa sets broad requirements and industry is given plenty of latitude in how it meets those demands. Agency officials still check off every step, but the approach is regarded as more efficient.

 

Artwork Dragon Capsule

Artwork: Crew Dragon Approaches ISS from the Front and Dock Automatically

 

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said it was a new era where "we are looking forward to be being one customer, as an agency and as a country. "We're looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial market place in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that historically have not been possible." NASA is also working with Boeing on crew transport. The company has developed a capsule of its own called the Starliner. This will have its equivalent demo flight in the next couple of months.

 

SpaceX Crew Dragon has docked with International Space Station

          SpaceX Crew Dragon has docked with International @Space Station

 

 

 SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday,March 3, 2019 at 10:51 GMT about 27 hours after launching into orbit on its maiden flight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

 

"Congratulations to all the teams on a successful docking," NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed Mission Control from aboard the space station. Applause broke out at SpaceX's control centre in Hawthorne, California, as Crew Dragon, and its 'astronaut dummy' Ripley, secured itself to the station with a set of hooks and latches. NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, who will fly on Demo-2 -- the first Crew Dragon mission to carry humans -- later this year, watched the docking from mission control. Although the docking is a major milestone for human space flight, the Crew Dragon - and Ripley- are not home free yet as the most difficult part of the journey may be re-entry.

 

 

Who is Elon Musk?  He runs a space exploration company and a futuristic car business, plays with flamethrowers and intervenes in foreign emergencies.

 

SpaceX team in Hawthorne control Dragon docked to Station above

SpaceX team in Hawthorne control, Dragon docked to Station above

 

 "Actually, hypersonic re-entry is probably my greatest concern," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk. Musk also said the revised backshell performs very well in SpaceX's re-entry computer simulations but has yet to be proven in flight.

 

NASA ISS station

 

When the SpaceX crewed Dragon — sans crew except for a test dummy named Ripley — lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center and then docked with the International Space Station, many hailed the mission as the start of a new age of commercial spaceflight. The pronouncements were a little premature.  The Dragon still has also undocked from the ISS followed by a successful splashdown in teh Atlantic Ocean, returning to Earth. Then the SpaceX spacecraft must undergo a launch abort test. No earlier than July, the Dragon will fly again, this time with a crew of astronauts. Only after the successful completion of these tests will people ride to and from the ISS onboard Elon Musk’s modern, high-tech space capsule. The Boeing Starliner will have to undergo the same test flights before it is qualified for regularly scheduled jaunts to and from low Earth orbit.

 

 International Space Station

 International Space Station

 

Still, the day that American astronauts will once again depart the Earth from American soil on American spacecraft is drawing nigh. Ever since the space shuttle orbiter fleet was consigned to museums, Americans have had to pay for rides on the Russian Soyuz at inflated prices. The arrangement was always fraught with danger for two reasons. Russian President Vladimir Putin always had the option to cut off the United States from access to the space station that Americans largely built and paid for in a fit of pique over some unrelated, earthly issue, such as Russian military adventures in the Ukraine and Syria. Quality control issues plaguing the Russian space program also threatened to cut off access to the ISS, as happened in the fall of 2018.

 

 

With any luck, by the end of 2019, the long-awaited age of commercial spaceflight will have begun in earnest. This new era will be called into reality by spacecraft conceived by President George W. Bush, continued by President Barack Obama, and then brought to completion by President Donald Trump, a rare case of bipartisan agreement. But what do we mean by commercial spaceflight? Initially, having commercially built and operated spacecraft will mean that NASA and other astronauts will fly into space more cheaply and reliably than the space shuttle was able to deliver. Cheaper spaceflight is no small thing, freeing money for other projects such as the return to the moon. Putin will no longer have veto power over whether America will have a human space program.

 

Boing Starliner 

Boing Starliner 

 

However, the crewed Dragon and the Starliner will give SpaceX and Boeing options to develop truly commercial spaceflight businesses, not dependent on NASA or any other government for funds. When asked about private spaceflights, Musk was somewhat hesitant to go into detail. He mentioned taking paying customers to the ISS for joint stays. The Russians, in partnership with a company called Space Adventures, operated a similar business, taking adventurous people, such as gaming magnate Richard Garriott and Iranian-American businesswomen Anousheh Ansari on trips to the ISS.

 

  Starliner Trio Preparing for Test Flight

Starliner Trio Preparing for Test Flight 

 

One can imagine both SpaceX and Boeing taking passengers on stand-alone orbital jaunts. If people are willing to pay a lot of money to go on suborbital barnstorming flights on the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo and the Blue Origin New Shepard they will be willing to shell out even more for a few orbits around the Earth.

 

 Commercial Crew providers making significant progress toward first flights

Commercial Crew Providers Making “Significant Progress” Toward First Flights 

 

The big test of the new commercial spacecraft will be their role in servicing private space stations. Bigelow, which has an experimental module, and other companies, like Axiom Space, are designing commercial space stations that could replace the ISS. In fact, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is counting on private space stations to free the space agency from supporting the International Space Station so it can concentrate on exploring the moon. Mars and beyond.

 

Elon Musk with Austronauts and NASA executives

Elon Musk Meets with Austronauts and NASA Executives

After the Successful Dragon SpaceX Return to Earth

 

Congress is skeptical and would like to extend the ISS all the way to 2030, past the current end date of 2024. Of course, Congress used to be skeptical of the ISS, almost killing the project twice in the 1990s. It was distrustful of the commercial spacecraft, underfunding the effort for its first few years. Both are long forgotten in the euphoria of success.

 

Dragon Capsule recovered from Atlantic Ocean

 

Splashdown of SpaceX Dragon Capsule in the Atlantic Ocean 

 

No doubt, if private companies build space stations serviced by private spacecraft around the time people are preparing to return to the moon, the skeptics will forget those misgivings, as well.