Historic Automated SpaceX Crew Dragon Docking A Success

Historic Automated SpaceX Crew Dragon Docking A Success
International Space Station orbit the earth, computer generated image

After a successful launch over the weekend, the SpaceX Crew Dragon has now arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS). The launch was set for earlier last week but had to be postponed due to bad weather. This is the first crew that SpaceX has brought to the ISS and the first time that a manned shuttle has used the automatic docking system.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley arrived at the ISS roughly 19 hours after leaving the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday morning. This is the first time in history that people have entered the ISS from a commercially-made spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley also performed manual test flights during their journey — after launch and on their approach to the ISS — to test and showcase the manual capabilities of the craft.

But automation was one of the key highlights of this mission. The Crew Dragon was equipped with an automated docking system that was designed to approach and connect to the ISS docking port autonomously. We first saw this capability in a test flight in 2019, but this is the first time the craft has performed this task with a crew onboard.

Automated docking means that astronauts aboard the ISS don’t need to engage in ‘berthing’ — a system where a robotic arm attached to the station needs to grab an approaching craft to help it dock. Automating this process is said to save time and effort on behalf of the astronauts. Manual controls can still be taken over if needed.

“It’s been a real honor to be a small part of this nine-year endeavour since the last time a United States spaceship docked with the International Space Station,” Hurley said after arriving at the ISS.

“We have to congratulate the men and women of SpaceX, at Hawthorne McGregor and at Kennedy Space Center. Their incredible efforts over the last several years to make this possible can not go overstated.”

The interior displays of the Crew Dragon are reminiscent of a Tesla. The touchscreen displays are compatible with the specially designed SpaceX suits, which Hurley showcased while approaching the ISS.

The SpaceX crew will now spend the new few months at the ISS along with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who were already aboard the station to welcome the new members.