Elon Musk's aerospace company is a step closer to launching its recreational space flights after its capsule, Dragon, successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS).

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 4, 2019

Astronauts at the ISS have now boarded the capsule of the Dragon, which carried a dummy pilot and 90kg (200lbs) of supplies on its test flight.

It launched on Saturday 1 March and will stay attached to the ISS docking station until 8 March, when it will detach and return to earth.

If it safely makes it back, this will be an important step in demonstrating to NASA that it is ready to carry a human crew. SpaceX is looking to start flights from as early as July this year. The Dragon is capable of carrying four astronauts.

The SpaceX Dragon vessel was carrying a mannequin named ‘Ripley’

SpaceX has previously sent supplies to the ISS with its Dragon vessel, but the current vehicle, Crew Dragon, is the first to dock autonomously instead of using the robot arm of the ISS.

The dummy pilot is a mannequin nicknamed ‘Ripley’ after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien films. SpaceX CEO shared images of ‘Ripley’ on Twitter last week.

In a blog post, NASA said the mannequin had been equipped with sensors “to gather important data about what an astronaut flying aboard the spacecraft would experience throughout the mission”.

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who will be the first human crew on the Dragon, sent commands from their base in California to position the vehicle before it made its final approach to the ISS.

Behnken said he was “super excited” by the Dragon successfully docking at the ISS. “Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here,” he said.

SpaceX has move a step closer to manned spaceflight

The next step for SpaceX and NASA now is another safety test known as the ‘in-flight abort test’. That will test the vessel’s capacity to jettison away from the rocket in an emergency situation. Once this is completed, the Dragon could be cleared to undertake a manned flight.

SpaceX, along with Boeing, was awarded a contract to fly US astronauts to the space station by NASA back in 2014. The contracts may be worth as much as US$6.8 billion and allow the US to avoid using the Russian Soyuz capsule to transport workers to the ISS.

The company is involved in a number of extremely ambitious spaceflight and exploration projects. Earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk suggested that tickets on its promised flights to Mars would be priced at around US$500,000.

Header image credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center