Updated / Sunday, 2 Aug 2020 08:59
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off from the International Space Station last night with two US astronauts on board, beginning their journey back to Earth despite a storm threatening Florida.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., trading as SpaceX, is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles, the Starlink satellite constellation, and the Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX’s achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008), the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010), the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012), the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the Sun (Falcon Heavy’s payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018), and the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station (Dragon 2 in 2020). SpaceX has flown 20 cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a partnership with NASA, as well as an uncrewed demonstration flight of the human-rated Dragon 2 spacecraft (Crew Demo-1) on March 2, 2019, and the first crewed Dragon 2 flight on May 30, 2020.In December 2015, a Falcon 9 accomplished a propulsive vertical landing. This was the first such achievement by a rocket for orbital spaceflight. In April 2016, with the launch of CRS-8, SpaceX successfully vertically landed the first stage on an ocean drone ship landing platform. In May 2016, in another first, SpaceX again landed the first stage, but during a significantly more energetic geostationary transfer orbit mission. In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket. In January 2020, with the third launch of the Starlink project, SpaceX became the largest commercial satellite constellation operator in the world.In September 2016, Musk unveiled the Interplanetary Transport System—subsequently renamed Starship—a privately funded launch system to develop spaceflight technology for use in crewed interplanetary spaceflight. In 2017, Musk unveiled an updated configuration of the system which is intended to handle interplanetary missions plus become the primary SpaceX orbital vehicle after the early 2020s, as SpaceX has announced it intends to eventually replace its existing Falcon 9 launch vehicles and Dragon space capsule fleet with Starship, even in the Earth-orbit satellite delivery market. Starship is planned to be fully reusable and will be the largest rocket ever on its debut, scheduled for the early 2020s.
SpaceX crew leave International Space Station for Earth
International is an adjective (also used as a noun) meaning “between nations”.
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NASA footage showed the capsule drifting slowly away from the ISS in the darkness of space, ending a two month stay for the first US astronauts to reach the orbiting lab on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade.
“And they are off!” the US space agency tweeted, with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken set to splash down today.
SpaceX crew leave International Space Station for Earth
“(They) will spend one more night in space prior to returning to their homeland, Earth,” NASA tweeted.
Their proposed splash-down sites are off the coast of western Florida’s panhandle, while tropical storm Isaias is headed toward the state’s east coast.
NASA opted to go ahead with bringing the pair home despite the threat of Isaias, which was downgraded to a tropical storm from a hurricane yesterday.
The agency later added the capsule was confirmed to be “on a safe trajectory”.
“Now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase after we undock, hopefully a little bit later today,” Mr Hurley said in a farewell ceremony aboard the ISS that was broadcast on NASA TV.
“The teams are working really hard, especially with the dynamics of the weather over the next few days around Florida,” he said.
Earlier, during the ISS ceremony, Mr Behnken said that “the hardest part was getting us launched. But the most important part is bringing us home.”
Addressing his son and Mr Hurley’s son, he held up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said: “Tremor The Apatosaurus is headed home soon and he’ll be with your dads.”
Mr Behnken later tweeted: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.”
Mission chief Chris Cassidy called it an “exciting day” and hailed the importance of having a new means to transport astronauts.
The mission, which blasted off 30 May, marked the first time a crewed spaceship had launched into orbit from American soil since 2011 when the space shuttle program ended.
It was also the first time a private company has flown to the ISS carrying astronauts.
The US has paid SpaceX and aerospace giant Boeing a total of about $7 billion for their “space taxi” contracts.
But Boeing’s program has floundered badly after a failed test run late last year, which left SpaceX, a company founded only in 2002, as clear frontrunner.
For the past nine years, US astronauts traveled exclusively on Russian Soyuz rockets, for a price of around $80 million per seat.