Up, Up & Away for the SpaceX Dragon
SpaceX, more formally known as Space Exploration Technology Corp., is Elon Musk’s brain-child and was founded in 2002 in order to “revolutionise space technology” through the provision and manufacturing of advanced spacecraft and rockets. One of Musk’s goals is to ‘commercialise’ space travel through the Commercial Crew model, in essence the idea is that anyone with enough cash to flash could buy a ticket to orbit into the lower stratosphere. According to Benji Reed, the director of crew mission management at SpaceX: “We want to send all kinds of people to space. Everything we’re doing is to open that new chapter in the space age.”
On the 29th of May, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a spacecraft carrying two veteran astronauts; Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into space and headed to the International Space Station, a journey that takes approximately 19 hours. This particular launch is significant due to the fact that it is only the fifth time in history that “U.S. astronauts have piloted a brand-new spacecraft into orbit.” NASA retired its space shuttles in 2011, and since then has been having to pay for seats when required for astronauts on Russian spacecraft. The flight which was named Demo-2 is also an important one, because as the name suggests, it is the second and final demo or test flight of Musk’s Crew Dragon Spacecraft before it can be declared fit to carry passengers for regular passenger launches. The goal is to be able to commercialise the flight and launch the operational side of SpaceX’ flights to the International Space Station later this year. This however all depends on the complete success of this voyage. The first piloted flight, Demo-1 took place earlier this year.
Crew Dragon is designed to ferry as many as seven passengers between the launch pad in Florida’s Atlantic Coast and a low-Earth orbit including the International Space Station. The Crew Dragon is designed with “in-flight abort capabilities” which means that should something go wrong with the rocket in-flight, there are a set of engines that will propel the shuttle away from the rocket. This was a lesson learned from the 1986 Challenger catastrophe in which the space shuttle was destroyed along with its seven crew members.
For most of the flight, Dragon will pilot itself which allows astronauts Behnken and Hurley to test out the on-board equipment including the crucial life-support systems. However, once the Dragon nears the International Space Station, Hurley will take over to ensure that the shuttle can be maneuvered “manually” in order to prove it capabilities in this regard.
SpaceX’ flight to the ISS is just the first destination in its planned commercial flights with the ultimate goal of reaching both the moon and Mars too. NASA alongside Musk’s SpaceX envisions a future where “space is going to be available to more people than ever before.”