SpaceX set for historic Crew Dragon test flight

02 March, 2019, 10:28 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Space										
		
																	NASA will spend $42 million to better understand space weather					
								
			
	
		Mike Wehner			@MikeWehner

CAPE CANAVERAL: Eight years after the last manned USA space flight, NASA and SpaceX are preparing to test a new space capsule for astronauts on Saturday - although for now the only occupant will be a dummy named Ripley.

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.

That would be a really big deal for the US, as NASA retired its shuttles in 2011 and has since relied on the Russians to provide ISS ferrying services.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft will be launched by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

This is an uncrewed launch, flying on a Falcon 9 rocket - with a first stage that will attempt to land itself on a drone ship - that SpaceX director Benji Reed said "is our end-to-end flight test to ensure the spacecraft and systems operate as designed before we put crew on board".

NASA contracted SpaceX and Boeing to build spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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After launching, the capsule will orbit Earth for just over 24 hours before heading to the ISS where it is scheduled to dock at 6:05 a.m. on Sunday.

"There are a lot of things you can prepare for on the ground, and through analysis and tests - and we do all that on the ground - but there's nothing like flying a mission to be able to really check out all the key systems ... to get ready for our next mission", Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA Commercial Crew Program, said last week during a news conference.

"Space weather is important because it can have profound impacts-affecting technology and astronauts in space, disrupting radio communications and, at its most severe, overwhelming power grids", says NASA.

Human spaceflight is basically the core mission of SpaceX. SpaceX is shooting for a July crew launch, but that could slip depending on the results of the upcoming demo and a launch abort test this spring. Ripley is similar to Starman, which blasted off past year in the driver's seat of Musk's red Tesla convertible, on a test launch of the company's bigger Falcon Heavy rocket.

The "Crew Dragon" spacecraft will launch early on Saturday with "Ripley", a mannequin, and roughly 400 pounds of cargo. Then, on Friday, March 8 at around 2:30 a.m. ET, the capsule will leave the space station and some five hours later fall through Earth's atmosphere. Boeing is targeting an April test flight of its Starliner capsule without crew, and a launch with three astronauts no earlier than August.

If all goes well, SpaceX's Crew Dragon could be the first American spacecraft to ferry astronauts to space from USA soil since the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011 - and Ripley is getting a first taste of what that'll feel like.

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