The first SpaceX Crew Dragon mission performed a flawless autonomous docking with the International Space Station (ISS) early yesterday.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A aboard a Falcon 9 on Saturday, 2 March. Approximately 11 minutes after a successful launch, the Crew Dragon spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage.
Following a nearly 24-hour chase, the Crew Dragon spacecraft rendezvoused with the ISS. After final confirmation from ground teams at SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, and NASA’s control center in Houston, the spacecraft began to close the final 20 meters (66 feet). At 10:51 UTC (05:51 EST), a full nine minutes ahead of schedule, the spacecraft successfully docked with the international docking adaptor at the forward end of the Harmony module. It was the first time a spacecraft has docked with the adapter since it was installed in August 2016.
In addition to 180 kilograms (400 pounds) of supplies, the DM-1 Crew Dragon carried a dummy crew member in a SpaceX flight suit and a plush Earth toy that SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk referred to as a “high tech zero-g indicator”.
The successful autonomous “soft capture” of the DM-1 Crew Dragon is a first for SpaceX. The previous iteration of the Dragon spacecraft would rendezvous with the ISS and remain stationary while the station’s Canadarm captured and installed it. Yesterday’s success marks the completion of a crucial benchmark on the way to crewed missions.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is designed to remain docked with the ISS for up to 210 days. However, for this first mission, it will remain for just five days departing on Friday, March 8 at around 07:30 UTC (02:30 EST).