In Brief

SpaceX Crew Dragon: test mission capsule docks with ISS

Elon Musk targets ‘this summer’ for his company’s first astronaut launch

SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon spacecraft has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a test mission for the company’s first manned capsule.

The capsule launched aboard one of the aerospace firm’s Falcon 9 rockets from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday evening, before reaching the ISS the following morning.

No astronauts were in the spacecraft when it lifted off on Saturday, The Guardian reports. Instead, SpaceX placed a sensor-laden mannequin, along with a planet Earth soft toy, in the cockpit to monitor the craft’s noises, “stresses” and life-support systems. 

Nasa astronaut Anne McClain, along with Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, boarded the Crew Dragon “about five hours” after docking with the space station, says Space.com

Saint-Jacques and Kononenko were the first to board the capsule and wore gas masks while conducting “atmospheric readings” inside the craft, the website says. Once the air inside the craft was deemed safe to mix with the atmosphere inside the ISS, the space station’s crew held a “formal welcoming ceremony” and gave a live video tour of the capsule. 

The Crew Dragon is due to remain at the ISS until Friday, when it will detach from the space station and return to Earth. It’s expected to land just off the coast of Florida.

Provided all goes to plan, SpaceX may go ahead with its first astronaut mission in July. 

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the two astronauts selected as crew for the maiden manned voyage, witnessed the launch in Florida before travelling to SpaceX’s mission control at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Daily Mail reports. 

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

However, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk told the BBC that the most challenging part of the test mission will happen during re-entry. 

This is because the Crew Dragon’s “heatshield” has a “somewhat irregular shape”, which could lead to “temperature variations” across the bottom of the capsule once it reaches “hypersonic speeds”, the broadcaster says. 

“It should be fine, but that’ll be a thing to make sure it works on re-entry,” said 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.”

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