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Crew Dragon launch on March 2: 7 things to know about this crew-less test flight to ISS

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New Delhi, Feb 27: SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule which is heading for the International Space Station (ISS) would be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket on March 2 from the Kennedy Space Center.

Representational Image

This would be a crew-less mission as the SpaceX wants to test a number of systems in the Crew Dragon capsule such as the life-support system, touch-screen console for astronauts to use, Crew Dragon's parachute system, temperature-related issues with the capsule's manoeuvring thrusters and the status of redesigned high-pressure helium tanks. In other words, it would an end-to-end test, from launch to the capsule's parachute-aided Atlantic Ocean splashdown six days later.

This mission, also known as Demo-1, will be the first orbital flight for the vehicle, and will not carry astronauts. The first Crew Dragon is scheduled to lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on March 2. The Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to dock with the ISS one day later and remain there until March 8, when it will undock and splash down several hours later in the Atlantic Ocean.

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It is important to make sure that all the systems work perfectly in Demo-1 as Demo-2 would be carrying two NASA astronauts to and from the ISS. When human lives are involved, nothing can be left to chance as even the smallest of the glitches can result in a disaster. That is the reason why space missions are tested multiple times under different conditions so as to make sure that when an astrounaut is in space, far away from earth, there is unexpected that he has to face.

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Demo-2's launch date has not been announced yet as it would depend on what work will be needed to respond to issues discovered during the Demo-1 test. It is expected that Demo-2's launch could be somewhere in July. The crewed test flight would be carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

What is the International Space Station or ISS?

The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit. Its first component was launched into orbit in 1998, with the first long-term residents arriving in November 2000. It has been inhabited continuously since that date. The last pressurised module was fitted in 2011, and an experimental inflatable space habitat was added in 2016. The station is expected to operate until 2030.

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The ISS consists of pressurised habitation modules, structural trusses, solar arrays, radiators, docking ports, experiment bays and robotic arms. ISS components have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets and American Space Shuttles.

The ISS programme is a joint project between five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos(Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. The station is divided into two sections, the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), which is shared by many nations.

7 things to know about SpaceX's Crew Dragon launch:

  • Crew Dragon's first orbital flight, also called as Demo-1, would be crew-less as the main objective is to test the functionality of various systems in the capsule.
  • The FRR had pointed out at a few minor potential issues with various Crew Dragon systems, including its thrusters and parachute.
  • Demo-1 will be followed by Demo-2 which is a crewed test flight carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
  • Crew Dragon has seven seats, a life-support system and a touch-screen console for astronauts to use.
  • Crew Dragon mission is a critical milestone in NASA's $6.8 billion Commercial Crew Program.
  • Russian has expressed concerns about the computer guidance and safety systems aboard the Crew Dragon which would help it dock with the ISS.
  • If the Crew Dragon, Demo-1's, March 2 launch is delayed for some reason, there are backup launch dates on March 5 and either March 8 or 9.

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