SpaceX Capsule Set to Splash Down Friday After Space Station Stop

Clark Diaz
March 13, 2019

While Dragon's crew member was a dummy named Ripley this time, the mission sets the stage for a manned flight, which will see two USA astronauts book a return trip to the ISS.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon, the first commercial spacecraft built for humans to travel to the International Space Station, splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday morning, ending a historic mission and beginning the next phase of human spaceflight.

McClain said "it won't be long" before astronauts start riding SpaceX's Crew Dragon as well as Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, another space taxi that's being developed for NASA's use. A brand new Crew Dragon will be used for the first piloted test flight this summer. After five days docked at the Station, Crew Dragon disembarked and returned to Earth.

Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test created to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Splashdown is expected at 8:45 am Eastern Time (1345 GMT).

The Go Searcher recovery vessel brings Dragon on board
Enlarge The Go Searcher recovery vessel brings Dragon

Launched last Saturday from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Dragon docked at ISS the following day before detaching early yesterday for its return to earth. Six hours later, the capsule carrying a test dummy parachuted into the ocean, a couple hundred miles off the Florida coast.

If the splashdown is successful, it will pave the way for the launch of the first manned test flight of the new Crew Dragon capsule in the next few months.

To say that the Crew Dragon did well would be a huge understatement.

A series of four burns total were executed to get Crew Dragon into place for a departure burn.

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After the inspections are complete, the same spacecraft will be refurbished and launched again in April for a critical in-flight abort test, triggering the capsule's eight Super Draco rocket motors to demonstrate its ability to quickly pull away from a malfunctioning booster.

Steve Stich, Deputy Manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during a post-landing appearance on NASA TV that, "I don't think we saw really anything in the mission so far - and we need to do the data review - that would preclude us having the crewed mission later this year".

"It won't be long before our astronaut colleagues are aboard Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner vehicles, and we can't wait", U.S. astronaut Anne McClain said on behalf of the ISS crew after the capsule left the ISS.

The crewless mission, called Demo-1, was SpaceX's chance to show it can build a spaceship that can carry people. To date, all Dragon cargo craft have instead berthed with the ISS-slowly approaching the space station and waiting for a crew member to grab the ship with a robotic arm.

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Dragon also marks an important shift in spacecraft design; the wingless vessel is a return to the design made famous by the U.S in the 60s and 70s. Recovery boats were waiting to hoist the capsule with cranes onto the "Go Searcher" recovery ship.

But like the launch, the docking went off without a hitch, and soon the three astronauts on board the station - NASA's Anne McClain, Oleg Kononenko of Russian Federation, and Canada's David Saint-Jacques - were able to check out the first commercial space vehicle designed for human space flight ever to dock with the station.

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