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SpaceX ship docks with the International Space Station


After 19 hours of travel, the Crew Dragon capsule with the two astronauts on board will arrive on the ISS. Historic launch inaugurates the era of commercial space missions

SpaceX and NASA made history yesterday by putting astronauts Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley into orbit. It was the first time that private business, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, had launched humans into space. It was also the first time since 2011, when NASA retired their space shuttles, that astronauts took off for the International Space Station from American soil.

Behnken and Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon capsule

And after 19 hours of crossing, Behnken and Hurley aboard the capsule, Crew Dragon, is expected to arrive at the space station. According to the program, they would dock at 10:29 US time and NASA broadcasts it live.

SpaceX spacecraft ushers in the era of private space missions

What happens during docking to the space station?

As detailed by The New York Times, the space station, at an altitude of about 250 kilometers, revolves around Earth at more than 17,000 kilometers per hour. The fundamental principle of orbital dynamics is that objects in the low orbits move faster, and those in the high orbits move more slowly. At launch, the Dragon crew began following the space station. But traveling in an orbit below the space station, it moved faster and caught up with it. Through a series of maneuvers, the capsule raised its orbit, allowing the capsule to approach the station at a slower speed.

While astronauts could dock to the station manually in an emergency, the Dragon Crew’s computers automatically started approaching the capsule to the space station at 8:27. , when they were about 5 kilometers away.

At a series of predetermined points throughout the approach, the spacecraft stops so that mission controllers on Earth can ensure that everything is working as intended. At one point, when the Crew Dragon is about 200 meters in front of the space station, the astronauts will test the spacecraft’s manual control as they continue to approach. This mission is a test flight, and NASA wants to make sure that the astronauts can successfully dock the capsule in the event of a computer malfunction.

As detailed in the American newspaper, the computer will take over again for the final approach. Once docked, Hurley and Behnken will have to wait a couple of hours to complete the necessary tests to ensure that the seals between the ship and the space station are airtight.

A historic launch

The American company SpaceX sent two NASA astronauts into space Saturday from Florida, ending six decades of the state monopoly on manned flights, and giving the United States a new means of space transportation for the first time in nine years.

The SpaceX rocket took the astronauts 200 kilometers high, in just 10 minutes, with a speed 20 times higher than that of sound.

Their historical ascent was broadcast live by cameras located inside the Crew Dragon capsule, and once they had regained their tranquility, the two astronauts observed the landscapes of Newfoundland, Canada, from above. Behnken and Hurley christened their ship Endeavor, a nod to the shuttle they both traveled in in the late 2000s.

The Falcon 9 rocket, built by SpaceX, took off from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, as planned at 1522 (1922 GMT), before the eyes of tens of thousands of people installed along the nearby beaches, and Donald Trump, who attended in person what NASA calls the dawn of a new space age. “Former leaders placed the United States at the mercy of foreign countries to send our astronauts to orbit. It’s over, ”Trump said, referring to the fact that, since the end of the space shuttles in 2011, Americans have been able to reach the ISS thanks to Russian rockets.

“Today’s launch shows that the future belongs to the private space industry,” he said, having invited Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX in 2002, to applaud.

A new economic model

“I am overwhelmed with emotion,” Musk said at a press conference later. “I have a hard time talking, we have been working towards this goal for 18 years. I find it hard to believe it happened. ”

The mission may seem like a modest step in space exploration. “Bob” and “Doug” will not go to the Moon or Mars, only to the old station located 400 km from Earth, which Russians, Americans, and astronauts from other countries have been coming to since 1998.NASA, however, speaks of “revolution,” as SpaceX is once again going to allow the United States access to space at a less onerous cost than previous programs.

The moment SpaceX Falcon 9 took off

For the $ 3 billion agreed in 2011 under a fixed-price contract, SpaceX fully developed a new space taxi and promised six round trips to the ISS.

Previously, the space agency ordered a specific vehicle from the industry giants and assumed all the budget overruns. SpaceX managed to defeat Boeing, whose Starliner capsule failed to take off last year.

The launch of this Saturday – a data that feeds the emerging mythology of Musk’s signature – was made from platform 39A, from which the Apollo moon exploration missions took off in the 1960s and 1970s.

“We have not seen US astronauts take off from US territory aboard US rockets in nine years,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We did it again today.”

For Elon Musk, an impetuous businessman obsessed with the red planet, it is before “a first stage in (the) journey towards the establishment of a civilization on Mars” and making humanity “a multi-planet species”.

Musk, who knew nothing of rockets when he created SpaceX, had to earn NASA’s trust. His first three releases failed. One of the rockets exploded on the ground, another shortly after takeoff, and last year the Dragon capsule itself exploded during an examination of the engines. The program should have started in 2017.

This mission of the Crew Dragon capsule, called “Demo-2”, will be key for SpaceX, a company that Musk founded in 2002 with the objective of developing a lower-cost alternative for manned space travel.

Dragon is similar to an Apollo capsule but in a 21st-century version. Touchscreens have replaced buttons and cranks. The interior is predominantly white, and the lighting is more subtle.

A single “umbilical” cord connects the suits to the seats to bring fresh air and communications to the two astronauts, dressed in body-tight space combinations, designed with the help of a Hollywood costume designer.

If the mission, which could run until August, is successful, the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians to access space.

Takeoffs from Florida will become more regular, with four astronauts on board. SpaceX also plans to move private passengers into space and even to the ISS, perhaps next year.

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