On Saturday, SpaceX is taking its most ambitious move to bring people into space. It does not send anyone with a pulse, but the upcoming launch is still an event of high consequence. In the early hours of March 2, SpaceX's brilliant new astronaut taxi, called Crew Dragon will fly into the air and fly to the International Space Station. The flight, officially known as Demo Mission-1 (or DM-1), features an upgraded version of the Freighter SpaceX Dragon . SpaceX was always intended for its Dragon capsules to transport people, but any SpaceX Dragon capsule that was previously launched has only carried cargo to and from the ISS , The updated version debuted at DM-1
That does not mean that the vehicle will be empty. SpaceX Says Dragon will carry supplies for the crew currently stationed on the space station, a radiation experiment, and a mannequin reminiscent of the Starman who flew aboard the first Falcon Heavy mission. The fake astronaut sits in one of the ship's seats and is carried in a custom flight suit that allows SpaceX to collect data about the environment of the capsule.
The Saturday mission, which will last for about five days, is a shortened version of those who will complete future crews. That's because it aims to provide critical data on how Crew 1945 behaves in space "Demo-1 is a flight test, but also a real mission, a very critical mission," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate Administrator of the NASA Space Program, in a press conference last week.
"It's a test flight, but it's more than a test flight," he added. "It's a mission to the International Space Station."
Following a launch on Saturday Crew Dragon is expected On Sunday morning arrive at the International Space Station ISS, where one of his main tasks will be to see NASA, that they can safely dock to the space station – a premiere for Dragon .Today, all Dragon Cargo boats set it up: The spaceship approaches the station and waits for a crewmember to grab it with one of the station's robotic arms and secure it. Crew Dragon will make the ship's onboard computers take the riskier maneuver to to set themselves up.
"We need to make sure it's safe to have a rendezvous with the space station. and decouple safely and pose no threat to the International Space Station, "said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's commercial crew program, during the same briefing.
The domed black and white capsule can hold up to seven passengers and does not deliver NASA's dependence on a commercial aerospace industry, Saturday's mission will be the first time a private company has been operating since the Space Shuttle's last Atlantis flight a crew-ready US vehicle launched eight years ago (NASA and others around the world now depend on expensive Russian missiles to send their crew to and from the ISS.)
After the shuttle program ends NASA trusted the commercial sector and selected two companies to build their future space taxis: SpaceX and Boeing Both companies have been working on the construction of a spacecraft since 2014, which can be carried under a $ 6.8 billion contract. Their vehicles – SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner – will be the Agency's primary means of bringing astronauts into space.
"Space flight is the core mission of SpaceX and we are looking forward to doing so, nothing is more important to us than this endeavor, we appreciate NASA's ability to do so, and have a chance to travel to the station to fly, "said Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of SpaceX construction and flight safety, said in the meeting.
If everything goes according to plan, some astronauts will fly to the station for two weeks this summer. Before this can happen however, SpaceX will carry out also a test flight in April 19459007. This time it will be shown how well the vehicle's emergency stop system works. This function is for the safety of the crew and is intended only in case something goes wrong during the flight. During the test, eight engines embedded in the hull of the Dragon will fire and push the capsule away from the rocket. (The system resembles the Soyuz rocket emergency rescue system that had saved two astronauts during a mishap last October).
NASA officials said in their briefing last week that Crew Dragon for this Test was lit green flight is not ready for people yet. Before the first crew members can climb aboard, many problems still need to be checked. Engineers need to make sure the ship's parachute system works as expected, and NASA is still analyzing a troublesome piece of hardware: COPVs.
Each Falcon 9 rocket contains these COPVs (Composite Wrap) or wrapped pressure vessels that help the fuel tank maintain the pressure it needs during the flight as the fuel is consumed. After a mishap in 2016, when a SpaceX missile exploded after a COPV breach during a routine pre-launch test on the pad, SpaceX's ships were redesigned. "The amount of testing and research that has been done on COPV security is gigantic," Musk said during a pre-launch call before Block 5's first launch last year. "This is by far the most advanced pressure vessel that humanity has developed."
To test the upgrades, NASA says the SpaceX needs to fly seven Falcons with the new COPVs before they can fly humans. To date, SpaceX has flown five of these missions.
But if the capsule succeeds in orbiting and back, SpaceX will come one step closer to its ultimate goal: to start people.