SpaceX Launches First U.S. Private Passenger Spacecraft to ISS

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SpaceX successfully launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:49 am EST this morning. Main engine cutoff and stage separation were confirmed by SpaceX at 2:52 am EST. First stage successfully landed on the drone ship platform Of Course I Still Love You at 3:00 am EST.

/READ MORE// The Next-Generation Dragon spacecraft is here

The Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station early Sunday morning. It will spend about five days docked to the station before returning to Earth and splashing down in the Atlantic.

A Historic Launch

The launch marks the first time a private American rocket and spacecraft built for human passengers has ever launched to travel to the space station. An upcoming crewed mission, Demonstration Mission 2, is scheduled for July.

There are no human astronauts on board. It does carry “Ripley,” a SpaceX dummy that will collect valuable information — using sensors all over its body — about what the experience will be like for human astronauts.

A previous version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule built solely for cargo became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS and safely return cargo back down to Earth back in 2012.

Since then, SpaceX has flown 16 successful cargo missions to the space station on behalf of NASA using the Dragon spacecraft.

Ready To Dock

If all goes well, the Crew Dragon will rendezvous with the International Space Station at around 6:00 am EST Sunday morning to dock autonomously.

But the docking procedure is quite different this time when compared to previous Dragon missions: “Dragon was basically hovering under the ISS,” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX during a pre-launch briefing on Thursday.

“You can see how it moves back and forth and then the [Canadarm] takes it to a berthing bay.”

In contrast, the Crew Dragon’s docking system is active, he said: “it will plant itself in front of the station and use a docking port on its own, no docking arm required.”

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