After almost a decade, NASA is sending a crewed rocket into space from the US to the ISS (International Space Station). The Falcon-9 rocket has been designed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. This is the first time NASA has used a private firm for a US crew launch.
The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, marking the return of human spaceflight capabilities to the US with the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American spacecraft since July, 2011. The Program is set to change the way NASA approaches space travel.
“We are on the cusp of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil yet again,” explained Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine
“This time we’re doing it differently then we’ve ever done it before” by partnering with the commercial industry in the hopes of driving down NASA’s costs and increasing access to space.
Crew ‘Dragon’ aboard SpaceX’s Falcon-9 will include Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, both from the US, pictured.
Both NASA and SpaceX are targeting 4:33pm EDT on May 27th for the launch of the second demonstration (Demo-2) flight. The launch is set to be from the historic Pad 39A, previously used for the Apollo and shuttle missions.
From launch, the astronauts will be accelerated to approximately 17000mph and put on an intercept course with the ISS. The spacecraft is designed to do this automatically, however the astronauts onboard will be ready to take control if necessary. After around 24 hours in orbit, the Crew Dragon will rendezvous and dock with the space station.
The launch, docking, splashdown and recovery operations will air live on NASA Television and on their website. This will be the final flight test of the system before SpaceX is certified to carry out operational crew flights to and from the space station for NASA.
Falcon-9 is also the world’s first orbital class reusable rocket. Reusability allows SpaceX to refly the most expensive parts of the rocket. SpaceX believes this is the pivotal breakthrough required to significantly reduce the cost of space access. While most rockets are designed to be burned upon reentry, SpaceX rockets can withstand reentry and successfully land back on Earth to be reused.
Building on the achievements of Falcon-9 and other spacecrafts, SpaceX is working on the next generation of fully reusable launch vehicles that will be the most powerful ever built, capable of carrying humans to Mars and beyond.
Observant space exploration enthusiasts may also notice the change in spacesuits from SpaceX. Gone are the old orange flight suits, which have been replaced with spacesuits designed to be more lightweight, functional and to offer protection from potential depressurisation.
Currently, the model only covers flights to the ISS but NASA’s aim is to extend the concept to operations in deeper space.
Written by Kate Summerson and edited by Ailie McWhinnie.