"Capture is done," cheered the spokeswoman for spacex, the U.S. Company that built the capsule, in an email. Two hours later, at shortly after 6 p.M. CEST, the historic docking maneuver was completed and "dragon" was firmly parked at the ISS module "harmony.
"I don’t have the words to describe the elation and relief that all of us here at spacex feel," company CEO elon musk said a little later at the company’s headquarters in hawthorne, california. Now, hopefully, doubts have been dispelled that private industry can take over tasks that were previously only carried out by government space agencies.
Mike suffredini, nasa’s ISS program manager, classified the successful docking as a "pinnacle event" in spaceflight history at a press conference. If everything continues to go well with this test mission, spacex is scheduled to begin a series of twelve cargo transport flights to the space station on behalf of the U.S. Agency. In return, nasa has signed a 1.6 billion dollar (1.25 billion euro) contract with the company.
The U.S. Agency mothballed its own shuttle fleet last summer and has since been completely dependent on the russian soyuz capsules for trips to the ISS. When it comes to transporting astronauts, this will remain the case for some time to come. Although spacex wants to further develop its capsule so that it can also transport people. But it may be years before that happens.
The docking procedure was complicated and slow – and yet exciting like a thriller. Meter by meter, the freighter approached the outpost in space, only to be stopped repeatedly for tests: a carefully planned choreography. For example, several tests were carried out to check whether communication between the visitor and the ISS was working and whether all the capsule’s maneuvering systems were functioning properly.
For a short time, a reflection from the ISS confused the "dragon’s" navigation system, and the capsule was commanded to pull back a little from the station. But the problem was quickly solved, and finally the time had come: nasa gave the green light for the final phase of the approach.
Snapped the 4.4-meter-high and 3.7-meter-wide "dragon" as it approached within about ten meters of the ISS. Astronaut don pettit of nasa and andre kuipers of the european space agency had the difficult task of controlling the robotic arm, the tip of which was then brought into a bulge in the capsule in slow motion. "It looks like we caught a dragon by the tail," pettit was pleased with the successful operation. Applause erupted at spacex headquarters and nasa’s control center in houston, texas.
Kuipers was already raving when the capsule came into view on friday morning: "it’s great to see it."
ISS permanent residents are scheduled to begin unpacking this saturday. The freighter is loaded with a good 500 kilograms of supplies. The capsule should undock on 31. May, then packed with garbage for disposal on the ground. When the "dragon" returns home, however, it will initially be a damp squib: it is scheduled to land in the pacific ocean off the california coast, only to be picked up by a ship.