SpaceX’s new commercial astronaut capsule, the Crew Dragon, has completed its first test flight, falling into the Atlantic Ocean on Friday morning.
The Crew Dragon splashed down at 8:45 a.m. ET, landing at precisely the anticipated time, give or take a few seconds. Indeed, the Demo-1 mission—an important test of NASA’s revamped commercial crew programme—went exactly as planned, signifying an important milestone for the United States as it strives to regain its ability to independently send astronauts into space—something it hasn’t been able to do since the days of the Space Shuttle Programme.
The Crew Dragon during atmospheric re-entry. Image: NASA
The uncrewed Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on March 2 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, docking with the International Space Station 27 hours later. The ISS crew spent some time monitoring the spacecraft before re-closing the hatch yesterday. At 2:32 a.m. ET Friday, the Crew Dragon undocked from the ISS and its thrusters placed it onto its final re-entry path into Earth’s atmosphere. Re-entry began around 8:30 a.m., followed by the parachute-assisted splashdown some 15 minutes later. SpaceX’s Go Searcher recovery ship participated in retrieving the capsule.
.@SpaceX's recovery fast boats approached the #CrewDragon as it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Up next, the team will hoist the spacecraft on the Go Searcher recovery ship. pic.twitter.com/anIUB6XQzr
— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) 8 March 2019
“Today’s successful, splashdown of the SpaceX Demo-1 Crew Dragon capsule after its mission to the ISS marked another milestone in a new era of human spaceflight,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a tweet. The commercial crew programme “is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” he tweeted.
The Demo-1 mission now complete, SpaceX and NASA will carefully analyse the capsule to assess its performance, particularly to see how it may have been affected by the launch and re-entry. Assuming all went well, an abort test of the Crew Dragon will happen in June, followed by the Demo-2 test, in which the capsule will deliver two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, to the ISS. [NASA]