ISS Welcomes SpaceX Dragon — First Private Spacecraft at Station

November 3, 2016 – 02:35 am

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully berthed with the International Space Station this morning after a long overnight approach including several unplanned maneuvers. The crew at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, concluded a long night of flight demonstrations and troubleshooting by watching astronaut Don Pettit control the station’s robotic arm and grapple the Dragon at 6:56 a.m. PDT.

“Looks like we’ve got a Dragon by the tail, ” Pettit said from the station’s Cupola module once the capture was made.

Pettit’s successful capture of the Dragon was greeted by cheers at both SpaceX’s Hawthorne headquarters and NASA’s mission control in Houston. For both SpaceX and NASA the capture moment marks the beginning of a shift in how cargo will be delivered to and from the space station, with the eventual goal of changing how manned flight itself is done to low Earth orbit.

But Dragon’s overnight approach was not without hiccups, demonstrating the true flight test nature of the mission. A problem with the devices used to guide the Dragon as it approached the station forced an initial retreat. In the end there were a handful of changes made to the initial flight plan, but at 6:49 a.m. PDT, the Dragon sat just 10 meters (32 feet) from the ISS when NASA flight director Holly Ridings gave the command SpaceX had been waiting years to hear: “go for capture.”

Early Friday morning the SpaceX team in Hawthorne completed the approach initiation burn of the Dragon’s Draco thrusters to move the spacecraft’s orbit roughly 1, 000 meters vertically to a point where it could change its alignment relative to the station before performing the first series of demonstration maneuvers close to the ISS. The Dragon spacecraft could be seen from the station by its flashing strobe light against the night sky.

Once in place at 350 meters, Dragon completed a 180-degree yaw rotation to align itself, and then another short burn was performed to move to the 250-meter point where the demonstrations would begin.

At 2:29 a.m. PDT, the SpaceX team confirmed Dragon was holding at 250 meters (820 feet), but Andre Kuipers, the Dutch astronaut on board the station, noticed the spacecraft was slightly forward of where it was expected to be. NASA engineers in Houston said the position was acceptable.

As the ISS and Dragon passed in and out of sunlight orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, the teams in Houston and Hawthorne prepared for what has long been considered the most challenging and critical part of the mission, demonstrating Dragon can make several different maneuvers in close range to the ISS, with commands being sent from both the ground and from the astronauts on the station.


Source: www.wired.com

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