SpaceX's first crew test flight goes well so far — Dragon roars

Gwen Vasquez
March 3, 2019

The Boeing and SpaceX launch systems are aimed at ending USA reliance on Russian rockets for rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth, at about $80 million per ticket.

SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.9 meter) Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at TK 2:49 a.m. (0749 GMT), carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley.

A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule blasted off on Saturday for the International Space Station, in a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from US soil later this year.

The station's three-member crew is expected to greet the capsule, carrying 400 pounds of supplies and test equipment, early Sunday morning, NASA said.

It will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, from where it will be brought back to Cape Canaveral. "We have to dock to the station".

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called it "a big night for the United States of America".

SpaceX's live stream starts from 12am on March 1 and cycles through preparation stages and launch before the capsule goes into orbit.

"It's been a long eight years", the Kennedy Space Center's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket.

Known as Demo-1, SpaceX's inaugural flight with NASA's Commercial Crew Program is considered a important uncrewed mission created to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new system. The US space agency has been paying Russian Federation roughly $81 million for a single seat on the Soyuz spaceship every time it needs to ferry an astronaut to or from the ISS.

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, its first spacecraft created to carry humans, took flight for the first time Saturday.

In 2014, the U.S. space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task. But he stressed there's no rush.

"From liftoff to splashdown, essentially she's going to tell us how she feels during the whole mission", a SpaceX senior dynamics engineer says in an informational video. "That race is over". But he stressed it was more important to move deliberately so "we get it right". NASA and SpaceX will use data from Demo-1, along with planned upgrades and additional qualification testing, to further prepare for Demo-2.

While the Dragon spacecraft launched successfully Saturday, the mission still has several significant hurdles to clear.

Ripley - apparently named for the titular star of 1979 horror film "Alien" - is responsible for testing the effects of the capsule on any future onboard passengers. "Super high tech zero-g indicator added just before launch!"

Boeing also received a contract in 2014 to develop a space vessel, the Starliner. Cargo Dragon must be maneuvered with the station's robot arm. Engineers will be carefully watching sound, vibration and other stresses on the spacecraft, while monitoring the life-support, communication and propulsion systems. NASA is providing eight billion US dollars for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems.

The objective is to make the next demo flight, with Hurley and Behnken, as safe as possible. In this case, the spacecraft will fly on to the space station and attach itself.

Bridenstine said he was "100 per cent confident" those flights would happen this year.

At Saturday's post-launch news conference, Musk said he'd be happy to fly on the revamped Dragon. Musk jokingly said they better wait a week, until the Dragon returns, before responding. If all goes well during the demo mission, the company will conduct a test on Crew Dragon's emergency abort systems in June. "That would be pretty cool, " he said.

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