SpaceX Crew Dragon docks with ISS following successful launch

The Crew Dragon spacecraft built by private company SpaceX has launched successfully for the first time and is currently docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

Crew Dragon
(Credit: NASA)

Designed to carry up to four crew members once fully operational, this first mission saw the vehicle loaded with a sensor-laden mannequin named Ripley and around 180kg of supplies. The Crew Dragon launched on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, lifting off at 2.49am local time on Saturday. Just over 24 hours later it rendezvoused with the ISS, docking autonomously using new sensor systems, new propulsion systems and the new international docking mechanism to attach to the station’s Harmony module forward port.

This marked the first time since the cessation of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011 that a US-made spacecraft designed for crew had docked with the ISS, and the first time ever that a privately developed crew vehicle had done so. If the mission, named Demo-1, continues to be a success, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken could travel to the ISS aboard the Crew Dragon as early as July of this year.

“First a note of appreciation to the SpaceX team. It has been 17 years to get to this point, 2002 to now, and an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people that got us to this point,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “I’d also like to express great appreciation for NASA. SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start.”

Although the Crew Dragon is designed to stay docked to the ISS for up to 210 days, Demo-1 doesn’t have that capability and is due to undock on Friday, March 8. After de-orbiting, it will splash down in the Atlantic off the Florida coast, then retrieved by SpaceX’s recovery ship Go Searcher. According to NASA, teams will be closely monitoring the parachute system and entry control system operation, which have been changed from cargo Dragons to provide higher reliability for crew flights.

“We are watching history being made with the launch of the SpaceX Demo-1 mission,” said Steve Stich, launch manager and deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “SpaceX and NASA teams have been working together for years, and now we are side-by-side in control rooms across the country for launch, in-orbit operations and, eventually, splashdown of the Crew Dragon right here off Florida’s coast.”