SpaceX’s new commercial astronaut capsule, the Crew Dragon, has completed its first test flight, falling into the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday morning.
The Crew Dragon splashed down at 12:45AM AEDT, 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 program — 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 Program.
The uncrewed Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center 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 6:32PM AEDT 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 12:30AM Saturday, 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) March 8, 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 program “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.