SpaceX to send first passenger craft to space on Saturday
Before we all get a little too excited, this is just a test. But it’s a really exciting stepping stone to the first SpaceX crewed flight, which will be flown by NASA astronauts.
As I’ve mentioned before, at the moment NASA has to pay the Russians to send American astronauts into space as the USA has no viable launch vehicle to house their own men and women. But Boeing and SpaceX have been rapidly working to fix that situation.
Early on Saturday morning, the Falcon 9 rocket will launch SpaceX’s new Dragon capsule, designed to take humans into space. Nicknamed DM-1 this test flight will have no one on board, but it is confirmed that we will see a similar ‘Starman’ situation from Elon’s Tesla payload launch last year, with a mannequin on board.
Both SpaceX and Boeing are behind schedule with their crew capsules after technical and bureaucratic delays. NASA was hoping to see the crew capsules launch in 2017. It looks like SpaceX have beaten Boeing to launch, but then again they do have the only way of launching anything into Space right now. It’s incredible to think that in 2019 for the Western world Elon Musk is the gatekeeper to space, the moon and further afield. Not even Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson realistically come close to the capabilities of SpaceX, and probably won’t for some time.
The DM-1 will spend around four days attached to the International Space Station, returning to earth to help NASA and SpaceX better understand its reentry capabilities. If everything is a success, it will lead to a much more dangerous and demanding test flight in four weeks time.
This second test will evaluate SpaceX’s emergency escape system. This test is known as the “in-flight abort”. The company will trigger a ballistic re-entry, which is what happened to astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin last year for real. It’s a horrible experience and puts its occupants under 8G of force, if you’re interested in reading more Popular Mechanics detailed it here.
According to SpaceX the capsule has eight thrusters, named Super Dracos, these can ignite during the launch process and help control the vehicle in such a violent environment
Hopefully, both tests will go well, and NASA will soon certify the Dragon capsule for crewed human flight. It’s going to be a major step to planetary missions to have US commercial flight fully underway.