SpaceX is getting closer to the first crewed launch of its new Crew Dragon capsule — which will once a carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Crew Dragon capsule arrived at the launch site in NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week, from where NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will be taking a trip to the ISS beginning at Launch Complex 39A. This is the same launch site used for both the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, which is appropriate as these were the last programs in which astronauts were launched from American soil. The capsule will launch atop another piece of SpaceX equipment, a Falcon 9 rocket.
The launch of the Crew Dragon will be a significant step for American spaceflight, by bringing launches back to the U.S. for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. It will also be a demonstration of NASA’s commercial crew program, a co-operation with private companies including SpaceX and Boeing to take over the tasks of ferrying astronauts to the ISS.
The commercial crew program has faced issues in the past, such as the recent orbital test flight of the Boeing Starliner capsule which had several problems. Not only did the capsule fail to make it to the ISS due to a timing issue, but a subsequent investigation discovered a second error which could have brought the capsule down had it not been discovered in time.
SpaceX has also released a video showing the Crew Dragon undergoing electromagnetic interference testing. The capsule is placed in an electromagnetic interference (EMI) chamber, a room designed to be free from reflections and without echoes. The capsule is then bombarded with electromagnetic noise to check that it will hold up under flight conditions:
We shouldn’t have to wait long to see the capsule in action once again. The first crewed Crew Dragon mission is targeted for May 7, as reported by Ars Technica.
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