SpaceX Demo-1 Comes Home

SpaceX Demo-1 Comes Home

SpaceX’s Demo-1 uncrewed flight test of its Crew Dragon capsule undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) this morning and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida at 8:45 am ET.  It is a major milestone in NASA’s commercial crew program and restoring the ability of the United States to launch astronauts into space.

Demo-1 was launched on March 2 and docked with the ISS the next day.  The three person ISS crew — NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques, and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko, who is currently ISS Commander — conducted tests of the spacecraft for the past 5 days.

SpaceX has delivered cargo to the ISS using a different version of the Dragon spacecraft since 2012, but this is the first time the spacecraft docked rather than berthed with the space station. During the berthing operation, Dragon maneuvers close to ISS and stops.  Astronauts then capture it using the robotic Canadarm2. It is later installed onto a docking port by ground commands.  This time, Crew Dragon had to use its own propulsion and navigation systems to guide it into the docking port.  No one is aboard the spacecraft.  Everything took place autonomously.

Undocking this morning at 2:32 am ET also was autonomous.  SpaceX tweeted photos of the separation from ISS.

SpaceX Demo-1 spacecraft after separating from the ISS, March 8, 2019. Credit: SpaceX tweet

The spacecraft fired its engines to begin reentry at 7:53 am ET and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 200 nautical miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, FL at 8:45 am ET.

Splashdown of SpaceX Demo-1 Crew Dragon in the Atlantic, March 8, 2019. Screengrab from NASA TV

Crew Dragon is one of two systems NASA is acquiring through public-private partnerships to regain the ability to launch American astronauts from American soil on American rockets, the program’s informal slogan. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is the other.  Its uncrewed test launch is scheduled for no earlier than April.  The uncrewed test launches will be followed by crewed test launches this summer and then operational flights.

The United States has not been able to launch anyone to the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.  It pays Russia for crew transportation services.  The next crew launch to ISS, in fact, is next Thursday, March 14.  Two NASA astronauts, Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and one Russian cosmonaut, Aleksey Ovchinin, will join the three ISS crew members now aboard.


This article was updated, and the title modified, to reflect the successful reentry.

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