A little while ago the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft ended its SpX-DM1 (SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1) or SpaceX Demo-1 mission for NASA splashing down smoothly in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. The Crew Dragon departed the International Space Station a few hours earlier.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft accomplished the maneuvers to undock from the International Space Station’s Harmony module on its own just like the docking maneuvers. Today’s operation was simpler but must still be conducted in a perfect way. Subsequently, during the descent into the Earth’s atmosphere, the Crew Dragon dropped the part called in jargon the trunk, its pressurized section. Only its pressurized section, which if in good condition will be reused, returned to Earth carrying around 140 kg (about 300 lbs) of cargo with samples collected during various researches conducted on the Station stored in freezers.
Shortly after splashing down, SpaceX’s ship called “Go Searcher” went to retrieve the Crew Dragon to transport it to the coast. The spacecraft had reached the International Space Station on March 3, 2019. A new wealth of data recorded by the on-board instruments and sensors connected to the Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD) nicknamed Ripley has been added to the existing dataset. The Crew Dragon will be inspected to verify that it completed its mission in a state compatible with the return in perfect health of the astronauts that will fly in the future.
The SpX-DM1 test was critical to assess the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s performance but there will be more before NASA authorizes its first manned flight. In particular, it will be necessary to carry out an in-flight abort test in which SpaceX will blow up its own rocket to verify that the emergency systems work well and can bring to safety the astronauts in case of malfunctions preceding the separation of the Crew Dragon from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.
There are also some other technical problems to be solved to ensure optimal operation of the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s engines and the on-board systems must be completed. This means that to be able to start the first manned mission in July 2019 the results of the SpX-DM1 and subsequent tests must be positive and everything on board must work properly.
In essence, the current schedule is uncertain but a number of steps will still be needed before the USA has a manned spacecraft again after the end of the Space Shuttle program. The SpX-DM1 test is still historic because it’s opening a new era in the American space program as NASA left the development of new spacecraft to private companies.