SpaceX launched its new Crew Dragon capsule just a day ago and it has been able to automatically dock to a port on the International Space Station this morning for the very first time. This means that a crucial mission objective of this test flight has been achieved as this docking maneuver is something that the Crew Dragon capsule will have to do countless times in the future once its start ferrying astronauts to the ISS.
SpaceX launched the capsule into space with a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday. Once the capsule reached orbit, the tip opened up to expose the docking mechanism. Once it approached the ISS, the capsule used sensors, lasers, and software to automatically dock itself to an available port outside the International Space Station.
To test the capsule’s docking capability, SpaceX sent it to multiple waypoints outside the station early this morning. It used the onboard thrusters to periodically approach the station and then hold position over two and a half hours. It even backed away at one stage to test its ability of making a retreat in the event of an emergency.
Once the capsule was nearly 20 meters away, it was sent the final command to dock with the ISS. This makes it the first time that SpaceX has automatically docked a vehicle to the ISS even though it has been sending up cargo Dragon capsules since 2012.
All of those vehicles were berthed by an ISS crew member who used a robotic arm to move the capsule to an available port. No astronauts were sent up on this test flight but when the ISS crew members open the hatch to access the capsule, they will be greeted by Ripley, a smart dummy, who took a ride up in one of the four passenger seats.
The first @Commercial_Crew mission arrived at the space station today when the @SpaceX #CrewDragon completed soft capture on the Harmony module at 5:51am ET. #LaunchAmerica https://t.co/Bgcgac0O50 pic.twitter.com/KfNFpHxpGx
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) March 3, 2019
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