Space/Space XThe Dragon capsule docked at the ISS
The four astronauts carried by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule are now aboard the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, docked overnight from Monday to Tuesday at the International Space Station (ISS). The first phase of docking with the ISS, the “soft capture”, was completed on Tuesday at 4:01 am GMT (5:01 am Luxembourg), according to images transmitted live on the Internet by NASA. The second phase, or “hard capture”, occurred a few minutes later.
The capsule, called “Resilience”, was launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from the private company SpaceX, NASA’s new means of space transport, after nine years of dependence on Russia. “This is a great day for the United States of America and for Japan,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine told a news conference.
The Falcon rocket lifted off on schedule Monday night from the Kennedy Space Center with Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi strapped into the Dragon capsule strapped to the top. “It was quite a launch,” commented Commander Michael Hopkins once in orbit.
“It works as it should”
The first phase quickly disengaged before returning to land in a SpaceX trademark drone craft. Twelve minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 200 km and a speed of 27,000 km/h, the Dragon capsule separated from the second stage.
SpaceX confirmed it was in the correct orbit to reach the ISS just over 27 hours later. “It works as it should,” confirmed SpaceX’s number two, Gwynne Shotwell, during a press conference. The astronauts, who join two Russians and an American on the station, will spend six months in the orbital laboratory, revolving around the Earth 400 km above the oceans.
This first “operational” flight follows the successful demonstration mission from May to August, during which two American astronauts were transported to the ISS and then returned to Earth without incident by SpaceX, the first private company to carry out this technological feat.
In total, SpaceX is expected to launch another two manned flights in 2021 for NASA, including in the spring with the European Thomas Pesquet, and four cargo supply missions in the next fifteen months. A purely private mission, via partner Axiom Space, is also planned for late 2021. NASA has hinted that American actor Tom Cruise could go to the ISS, which has not been confirmed. And SpaceX could also add “another fun mission, I’ll tell you later”, said Gwynne Shotwell.
“NASA was a disaster when we took matters into our own hands. Today, it is by far the most popular and advanced space center in the world!” tweeted President Donald Trump, appropriating the success of a program launched under his two predecessors.
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden also praised NASA and SpaceX. “This is proof of the power of science and what we can achieve by combining innovation, inventiveness and determination,” he tweeted. There was a problem with the cabin climate control system, but it was quickly resolved. “It was just a small departure issue,” confirmed Kathy Lueders, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight.
When is the Moon?
It took the Americans nine years to certify the successor to the space shuttles, which were retired in 2011. NASA opted for public-private partnerships. A second aircraft, Starliner, manufactured by Boeing, has been delayed and could be operational within a year.
NASA hopes to continue cooperation with Russia. It has offered seat swaps, but talks between NASA and Roscosmos are dragging on. The reality is that ties between Washington and Moscow in the space field, one of the few where they have remained good, are stretching. Breaking with more than 20 years of cooperation on the ISS, Russia will not participate in the next desired mini-station by NASA around the Moon, Gateway.
For Artemis, this American program to return to the Moon in 2024, NASA has entered into partnerships with other space agencies, including Japan and Europe, but the future is not clear: it has not yet received the necessary tens of billions of dollars from the US Congress. to finish it. And Joe Biden did not endorse the 2024 target.