By Raaj Datta (NVONews.Com)
The SpaceX Dragon capsule, the world’s first private cargo-carrying spacecraft, flew close to the International Space Station bringing us close to the climax of a historic moment.
Early morning on Thursday, the Dragon fired its thrusters and brought it close to 2.4 kilometres below the ISS. The spacecraft completed two vital tests at that distance – demonstrated its Relative Global Positioning System (GPS) and established a communication link with the space station. Astronauts have confirmed that the link worked. NASA and SpaceX have also confirmed the event as a success, while the historic link-up on Friday is on track.
The Dragon is carrying 1000 pounds of provisions to the ISS and it’s the first U.S. spacecraft to the space station after NASA’s own shuttles were retired last year.
Prior to the Thursday accomplishment, at the pre-dawn hours, astronauts at the ISS had to cope with bad computer monitors and camera issues, but eventually the tests went well. Astronauts could successfully switch on the Dragon’s strobe light via remote control, but the sun’s glare made it hard to see its position. Finally, after 10 minutes the Dragon came into camera view and the two solar wings became clearly visible as it approached closer to the ISS.
Since its successful launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX’s Dragon has steadily been completing the tasks as intended prior to docking with the space station. After completing the primary objective of carrying cargo to the ISS, SpaceX plans to launch astronauts from the U.S. soil. The company aims to provide regular service to the ISS much faster than government-managed cargo supplies. There are two more trips planned to the ISS by the year-end.
The handing over of orbital flights to private businesses is a part of President Barack Obama’s strategy for NASA. The move would help NASA to focus solely on deep space exploration – like sending a mission to Mars or even landing on an Asteroid.
The final approach is planned on Friday. Around 2 am Pacific Time, NASA will decide whether or not the dragon will go round the space station in a 1.4 kilometre ellipsoid. If the Dragon receives a GO from NASA, it will move 250 metres directly below the ISS in about 1 hour. There it will perform a battery of tests and if NASA is satisfied with the results, Dragon will perform the final approach to the ISS. If all goes well, astronauts will try to take hold of Dragon with the space station’s 58-foot robotic arm and attach the spacecraft to the ISS.
Saturday morning, the astronauts will start the procedure to open the Dragon’s hatch, which might take about 2 hours to complete. It will be a historic moment as the space station crew enters the Dragon for the first time. SpaceX, however, says that the dates and times could easily change because each step will be carefully planned and executed so that the event is a complete success.