Two days ago, SpaceX started a historic journey to become the first commercial company to dock to the International Space Station. Since the launch the Dragon space capsule has had one task to complete after another and it has done every one of them without complaining once.
Early this morning, Dragon’s thrusters fired, bringing the vehicle 2.4 kilometers below the International Space Station. The vehicle completed two key tests at that distance. Dragon demonstrated its Relative GPS and established a communications link with the International Space Station using CUCU. Astronauts commanded on Dragon’s strobe light to confirm the link worked. These are the last few tests before the Dragon attempts to dock with the ISS. Here is the video of the Dragon below the ISS:
There are 2 tasks left in the journey of the Dragon space capsule:
– Final Approach, Dragon Grapple
Around 2:00 AM Pacific/5:00 AM Eastern NASA will decide if Dragon is GO to move into the approach ellipsoid 1.4 kilometers around the space station. If Dragon is GO, after approximately one hour Dragon will move to a location 250 meters directly below the station. Dragon will then perform a series of maneuvers to show systems are operating as expected. If NASA is satisfied with the results of these many tests, Dragon will be allowed to perform the final approach to the space station.
Sometime around 6:00 AM Pacific/9:00 AM Eastern, astronauts on the space station will grapple Dragon with the space station’s robotic arm and the spacecraft will attach to the station.
– Hatch Opening
If all goes well, at approximately 2:00 AM Pacific/5:00 AM Eastern, the crew will start procedures to open Dragon’s hatch. It will take around 2 hours to complete all operations leading to the hatch opening. Once the hatch is opened, astronauts will enter Dragon for the first time in space.
If the mission of docking with the ISS is successful, then SpaceX will begin to fulfill its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract through NASA). The resupply contract for the International Space Station has it making 12 runs, and since it is reusable, they will have the ability to ferry items back and forth, not just trash but experiments.
Here is a picture of the ISS taken by a thermal camera on the Dragon courtesy of SpaceX:
Here is a photo from the ISS of the Dragon on approach courtesy of NASA: