SpaceX Launches Crew Dragon to the International Space Station

Falcon 9 first stage makes its entry burn as the second stage Merlin 1D engine carries Crew Dragon to orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX successfully launched an automated Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. It was the first flight test under NASA’s Commercial Crew program to return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 2:49 am EST from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft, which is carrying an instrument mannequin named Ripley, safely separated from the second stage and began a 27-hour voyage to the space station.

The Falcon 9 first stage successfully touched down on an off-shore drone ship.

After docking on Sunday morning, the Crew Dragon will remain at the station for five days. It is scheduled to return to Earth on Friday, March 8. SpaceX plans to reuse the capsule for an in-flight abort test scheduled for June.

This is the first of two flight tests for the Crew Dragon variant. A second flight with two NASA astronauts is scheduled for July. Crew Dragons will be certified to carry astronauts on a commercial basis.

Boeing is also planning to conduct flight tests of its Starliner crew vehicle later this year. The current planning dates for Commercial Crew flight tests are:

  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
  • Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
  • SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
  • SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019

The schedule for the Crew Dragon mission is below. NASA TV will be providing live coverage of all events. SpaceX also plans to cover the docking on its website.

Saturday, March 2, 4 a.m.SpaceX Demo-1 post-launch news conference from Kennedy Space Center, with representatives from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, International Space Station Program and Astronaut Office, and from SpaceX.

Sunday, March 3, 3:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station.

Sunday, March 3, 8:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon hatch opening at the International Space Station. Hatch opening is scheduled at 8:45 a.m.

Sunday, March 3, 10:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon welcoming ceremony at the International Space Station.

Friday, March 8, 12:15 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon hatch closing in preparation for departure from the International Space Station.

Friday, March 8, 2 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon undocking from the International Space Station.

Friday, March 8, 7:30 a.m.: SpaceX Crew Dragon deorbit and landing.