Astronaut in outer space.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule successfully docks with ISS

Image credit: Alexey Kuzin | Dreamstime.com

SpaceX’s new crew capsule has successfully arrived and settled at the International Space Station (ISS), completing its second milestone in just over 24 hours.

The Dragon module was launched on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida in the early hours of Saturday, 2 March 2019.

When it was launched, the capsule was unmanned and is scheduled for a five-day visit that will test the systems and operations required to allow humans to be aboard the first manned mission, which is pencilled in for July.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the International Space Station

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the International Space Station; Nasa

Image credit: NASA

It has become the first US-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to arrive at the ISS in eight years and TV cameras on Dragon and the space station provided stunning views of one another throughout the rendezvous.

Furthermore, if the demonstration becomes a success, SpaceX plans to launch two astronauts in the capsule this summer under Nasa’s commercial crew programme.

Capable of carrying up to seven passengers to and from Earth’s orbit, the pressurised section of the Dragon capsule is designed to carry both people and environmentally sensitive cargo. Towards the base of the capsule and contained within the nose cone are the Draco thrusters, which allow for orbital maneuvering.

Dragon’s trunk carries unpressurised cargo and also supports the spacecraft during ascent. The trunk remains attached to Dragon until shortly before re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches in a photograph taken by NASA astronaut Anne McClain aboard the International Space Station

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches in a photograph taken by NASA astronaut Anne McClain aboard the International Space Station

Image credit: Reuters

Both of the astronauts planned for the trip in July - Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken - were at SpaceX Mission Control in southern California observing the docking after watching the Dragon rocket go into orbit at the Kennedy Space Centre.

“Just super-excited to see it,” Behnken said. “Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here.”

Instead of relying on the station’s robotic arm for berthing, the capsule docked autonomously. According to Behnken, this process is how it should work when he and Hurley are onboard. They may push a few buttons and will have the ability to intervene if necessary, he said.

As part of Sunday’s operation, the ISS astronauts sent commands to Dragon to retreat and move forward again, before the capsule made its final approach.

SpaceX employees at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered as Crew Dragon docked, nearly 260 miles above the Pacific north of New Zealand, bursting into applause again, several minutes later, when the capsule’s latches were tightly secured.

The ISS astronauts also offered congratulations to SpaceX as they got ready to open the hatches and collect the supplies onboard Dragon.

The capsule’s lone passenger – a mannequin wearing a white SpaceX spacesuit – was also welcomed onboard. The dummy has been named Ripley after the lead character Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, in the Alien franchise.

Dragon will remain at the space station until Friday, when it undocks and aims for a splashdown in the Atlantic, a few hundred miles off the Florida coast.

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.

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