Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launches spacecraft designed for astronauts — Crew Dragon

Olive Hawkins
March 3, 2019

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon crew capsule are scheduled to lift off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 02:49 EST Saturday (20:49 NZT). The company sent the spacecraft for its first unmanned test mission with a dummy, named Ripley, on board. Although the Dragon capsule itself is created to carry a crew of up to seven astronauts skyward, the one that launched on Saturday - Demo-1 is its designation - is more of a test run: it's carrying a few hundred pounds of cargo, plus a sensor-filled dummy named "Ripley".

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

It is to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, and then return 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".

NASA's commercial crew program is a plan to return to space on American rockets.

The Dragon crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Dragon confirmed in good orbit", SpaceX confirmed at 3:00 a.m.

If all goes well, SpaceX's first crewed mission, which will fly NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, could happen by July, according to NASA's most recent schedule.

Why it matters: For almost a decade, NASA has been reliant on Russian rockets to put their astronauts into orbit.

It pays Russian Federation to get its people up to the ISS orbiting research facility at a cost of $82 million per head for a round trip.

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Nasa is also working with Boeing on crew transport. SpaceX and Boeing are leading that charge, so the successful Crew Dragon launch represents a major milestone moment. But he stressed there's no rush.

"We've got to dock to the space station and come back". "That race is over. It's done. Now we're in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right".

SpaceX already has made 16 trips to the space station using cargo Dragons.

"We're only partway through the mission", Musk said.

Instead of solar wings, solar cells are on the spacecraft itself.

"We're going to be a customer", Bridenstine told reporters.

Because this is just a demonstration, there are no astronauts aboard - but there will be a space-suited mannequin. Musk tweeted. True to his word, the toy rose weightlessly above the seat once the capsule was in orbit. It's gone through many iterations down the years and now has an extensive flight history.

The capsule is created to dock and undock automatically with the space station. Previous Dragon vehicles have been grabbed and hauled to the docking port by the station's robotic arm.

Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors. This will have its equivalent demo flight in the next couple of months. Today, SpaceX launched a new Crew Dragon capsule to demonstrate their readiness for manned spaceflight. The first-stage booster used Saturday landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic, following liftoff.

The companies can still launch people this year - but things will have to go smoothly.

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