The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, with no humans on board, has been successfully launched for a demo mission from Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral in NASA’s Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida at 2:49 AM Eastern Time.
SpaceX and NASA were bound by a contract where SpaceX was asked to develop a transportation system for taking astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The current mission, which has been called Demo-1, is to test the spacecraft’s ability to launch and dock at the ISS and finally parachute into the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch of the Crew Dragon Demo-1, flying on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was successful. It is expected to reach the ISS and autonomously dock with the orbiting lab on Sunday morning at 6 AM Eastern Time, approximately 27 hours after its launch. The ISS is situated in the low Earth orbit flying at a speed of 7.66 km/s orbit.
The spacecraft, which can seat up to 7 astronauts, is uncrewed, but an A.T.D. or “anthropomorphic test device” wearing a SpaceX spacesuit has been positioned there, along with its ‘companion’- a super high tech zero-g indicator.
The SpaceX engineers have named the A.T.D. ‘Ripley’ after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the ‘Alien’ movies. The device contains sensors that can measure the range of force and acceleration that would be experienced by a person on the trip.
Moreover, Crew Dragon has been supplied with 400 pounds of cargo and supplements stimulating the mass of a fuller capsule, which would be taken note of by engineers on the ground to understand the spacecraft’s capability of carrying more load.
NASA had also made a contract with Boeing, whose capsule, Starliner, might be set for a crewless demo mission sometime in April.
Ever since NASA’s space shuttles retired in 2011, NASA has been taking the help of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for transporting astronauts to space. With the success of the demo mission launch of the Crew Dragon, there are chances that it could become the first commercially built spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts to orbit. After more safety checks, if everything goes as planned, SpaceX may fly NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on its first crewed mission, which is tentatively scheduled for July.