SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule set for historic test flight

Olive Hawkins
March 1, 2019

"We want to maximise our learning so we can get this stuff ready so that when we put crew on, we're ready to go do a real crew mission, and it'll be the right safety for our crews".

No crew will be on board this time, just a sensor-equipped dummy (or "smartie" as SpaceX calls it) named Ripley (after the Alien movies, of course.) Its sensors are created to gather data on what the experience will be like for a human astronaut on board later this year. The Crew Dragon is created to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on the company's Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

SpaceX is no rookie to launches having carried out 15 resupply missions to the orbiter since 2012.

The flight, if successful, will be the first time a spaceship capable of carrying people that is commercially built and operated will travel to the International Space Station.

A Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon space capsule on top, rolls out from the horizontal integration facility at Kennedy Space Center and begins to make its way toward the launch pad on February 28, 2019.

The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission will cost $42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS), the USA space agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The crew capsule is based on the ISS cargo freighter but incorporates life-support systems and more powerful thrusters to push the vessel to safety if something goes wrong with the rocket.

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Additional "unknown unknowns" may well come to light during the uncrewed test flights, or during launch abort tests that SpaceX and Boeing are due to execute in the months ahead.

Most famously, the launch pad was used in 1969 to send the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon. "And that's cool", Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA's human spaceflight program, said during a launch briefing last week, The Washington Post reports. It will then head back to Earth on March 8 where it will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred kilometres off the Florida coast.

"I guarantee that not everything will work exactly right".

NASA said then the first Crew Dragon test flight would happen in November, with Starliner's maiden voyage happening in late 2018 or early 2019.

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time since the U.S. Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.

This mission is created to test all the systems in advance of crewed missions later this year. The robotically controlled rendezvous is scheduled to take place early Sunday morning. There is nothing more important for us than this endeavour.

"Human spaceflight is basically the core mission of SpaceX", he said.

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