In the wee hours of the morning, SpaceX’s commercial Dragon spacecraft approached the International Space Station for a series of maneuvering and communication tests. The goal was to see how the spacecraft would perform in relatively close proximity to the space station. NASA is now saying that the Dragon has passed with flying colors, and the mission is good to continue.
As part of the Commercials Orbital Trasportation Demonstration 2, or COTS 2, SpaceX was required to demonstrate that the private company could not only launch a spacecraft, but that it could work in congress with the ISS once in orbit. Getting the Dragon into space proved to be quite a challenge, with nearly a year of delays and a frustrating abort last weekend at T-0.5 seconds.
After the Dragon finally did launch atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket earlier this week, it spent about a day catching up to the ISS. Late Wednesday night, the Dragon was within range of the station, and began its first test since entering orbit. At 3:58 A.M. EDT Thursday, the Dragon adjusted its height and performed a co-elliptic burn in preparation for a “fly-under.”
By 4:43 AM, the spacecraft was 2.4 kilometers beneath the station and tested its Relative GPS navigational system, which uses the relative position of the Dragon and the ISS to determine the spacecraft’s position in space. The station crew also activated the Dragon’s UHF communication system, which they used to turn on a strobe light attached to the craft. In doing so, the ISS crew confirmed that they could communicate and control the Dragon systems remotely.
NASA has reported that all these tests were successfully completed, allowing the mission to move to its next and most anticipated phase: Docking, or “berthing,” with the station. After moving out of the station’s vicinity at 7:57 AM today, the Dragon will set itself onto a new trajectory to bring it close enough to be berthed to the station. NASA plans to begin that process on Friday, when it will grapple the spacecraft with the station’s Canada arm and reel the Dragon in.
During this morning’s tests, the space station crew snapped this picture of the Dragon while it moved around the station. Above the blue curve of the Earth, the spacecraft appears as a small grey dot. By tomorrow, the station crew should have a much better view.
- Getting the Dragon to orbit took some last minute repairs
- If you missed the launch, you can watch it again here
- Meet the other players in the commercial space game