SpaceX capsule successfully docks with International Space Station
A handout still photo grabbed off NASA TV video showing the SpaceX Dragon capsule after it successfully docked with Space Station as part of the Demo-1 mission, Mar. 3, 2019. EPA-EFE/NASA TV / HANDOUT
A handout photo made available by the NASA shows US astronaut Anne C. McClain aboard the Space Station looking through the hatchet into the SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying a instrumented dummy (unseen) after it successfully docked with Space Station as part of the Demo-1 mission, Mar. 3, 2019. EPA-EFE/NASA TV / HANDOUT
Miami, Mar 3 (efe-epa).- An unmanned astronaut capsule launched by SpaceX in a demonstration flight that could pave the way for a return to American manned space travel has on Sunday successfully docked at the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, which lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A on Merritt Island, Florida, a launch site that was formerly used for the Apollo program's lunar missions, autonomously navigated its way to docking with the ISS, whose crew monitored its approach closely.
"Capture confirmed! After making 18 orbits of Earth since its launch, SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully attached to the Space Station via 'soft capture' at 5:51 am ET, while the station was traveling just north of New Zealand," NASA said on Twitter.
A test dummy dressed as an astronaut was on board the capsule. The craft delivered 181 kilograms of supplies and equipment to the ISS crew.
A Falcon 9 rocket lofted the capsule, which is an improved Dragon cargo module, into orbit on Saturday.
It is due to spend roughly around five days paired to the ISS before it makes its descent to Earth, where it is expected land in the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida coast on Friday.
The goal of SpaceX's round-trip Demo Mission-1 (DM-1) is to demonstrate "most of the capabilities of their crew transportation system," NASA said prior to the launch.
These include operation of the avionics system and docking system and performance of the Guidance, Navigation, and Control systems of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon through ascent, on-orbit and entry, it added.
Following the capsule's launch, United States President Donald Trump took to Twitter to celebrate.
"We've got NASA 'rocking' again. Great activity and success. Congrats to SpaceX and all," he wrote.
SpaceX founder and CEO, entrepreneur Elon Musk, thanked the president and NASA.
The South African-born billionaire's company was awarded a $2.6 billion "space-taxi" contract by NASA in 2014.
Musk is also the CEO of Tesla, which makes luxury electric vehicles.
Since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, the US has had to rely on Russian Soyuz capsules to send astronauts to the ISS, paying Moscow more than $80 million per seat.
This awkward situation for a space power could change if the DM-1 is a success, since NASA may then approve regular use of the new crew transportation system.
The ISS, a 16-nation project representing an investment of more than $150 billion, currently comprises 14 permanent modules and orbits the Earth at a speed of more than 27,000 kph (16,800 mph).
The station's orbit is boosted periodically with the assistance of the thrusters of docked spacecraft, as the ISS loses 100-150 meters (328-492 feet) of altitude per day due to earth's gravity, solar activity, and other factors.