->The second is good: the United States has returned to autonomous launches of astronauts to space. On time, at 9:22 pm Italian time, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule successfully left the Cape Canaveral base, bound for the International Space Station (ISS). After the postponement due to bad weather last Wednesday, everything went smoothly, thus allowing NASA to relaunch astronauts from American territory in an American vehicle. It hasn’t happened since July 2011, with the last Space Shuttle mission.
THE RECONQUESTED INDEPENDENCE
Since then, the United States has been forced to buy seats aboard the Russian Soyuz capsule, an uncomfortable situation in view of very ambitious exploration objectives for the next few years, from returning to the Moon by 2024, up to the Red Planet. This is why the “Launch America” event has a historical significance, further strengthened by the commercial nature of the capsule and rocket that brought it into orbit, the Falcon 9, both made by SpaceX. A “historicity” demonstrated by the exceptional parterre at the Kennedy Space Center, the same as last Wednesday, when the countdown stopped 15 minutes after launch. With the number one of NASA Jim Bridenstine (appeared moved after the launch) and the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, the president returned to Florida Donald Trump and his deputy Mike Pence, leading the National Space Council.
On the other hand, the script was the same. The two protagonists of the mission, the astronauts Douglas Hurley is Robert Behnken, have returned to the historic Launch Pad 39 (from where the Space Shuttle started) on board the same Tesla Model X supplied by Musk. They both have two flying experiences on the Shuttle, including (for Hurley) the last mission in 2011. With the new suits (strictly SpaceX brand) and helmets made in 3D printing, Hurley and Behnken are back on board the Dragon a couple of hours before departure, repeating the various pre-launch procedures on the innovative touch screens. About 45 minutes after launch, after checking the favorable weather conditions, “go” arrived to proceed.
A few minutes before, the “launch escape system” had been activated, to allow the capsule to disengage from the rocket in case of problems. At less than 35 minutes, the supply of Falcon 9 started. Then, the final countdown, and all eyes on Launch Pad 39 of the John F. Kennedy space base. The Falcon 9 has access to the engines, rising from the ground and quickly reaching one hundred kilometers in height, the conventional limit of the atmosphere. Three minutes after launch, the first stage came off, headed for a drone platform in the waters off the space base, where it arrived on time in another six minutes so that it could then be reused. Dragon’s journey to the ISS will last approximately 19 hours, when Hurley and Behnken will dock on the space outpost.
TOWARDS THE NEXT MISSIONS
The journey of the Crew Dragon takes the name of “Demo-2 mission”, a test mission that will have to certify the spacecraft for long-term operations to the orbiting station (over 200 days). It does not have a fixed duration. The times for the return (expected in the waters off Florida) will be decided once Behnken and Hurley reach the crew of the Expedition 63 on the extra-atmospheric platform, arrived last month. Count the commander Chris Cassidy, American, and the two cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin is Ivan Vagner. The capsule that left Cape Canaveral has the ability to remain in orbit for up to 110 days. Once certified, it can go beyond 200 days.
THE COMMENTARY OF SACCOCCIA …
“A historic day for the United States which after nine years returns to have autonomous access for astronauts to the International Space Station, thanks to the public-private partnership between NASA and SpaceX,” said the president of the Italian Space Agency (Asi ) Giorgio Saccoccia. “A significant step that marks the beginning of a new commercial era for human space flights”, he added, recalling that “there is also Italy’s contribution to this launch, thanks to the support provided by the ASI Broglio base Malindi Space Center in Kenya, which is part of the tracking stations ”that follow the flight of the capsule.
… OF THE EXPERTS
The undersecretary had also noticed it Riccardo Fraccaro, reaffirming the Italian ambitions to be on board the new space exploration adventures. astronaut Maurizio Cheli he explained to us why the launch has a historical significance, both from a technological point of view and for its emotional and strategic characteristics. According to Marcello Spagnulo, an engineer and aerospace expert, the launch has a high strategic value in a new (very geopolitical) space race in which Italy’s place is alongside the USA. Finally, the astronaut and general of the Air Force Roberto Vittori he noted that for the new era of space exploration, we may have to wait for the StarShip, the SpaceX spacecraft that brings the extra-atmospheric journey on the track of the space-plane.
THE EXPLOSION OF THE STARSHIP
And yet, the explosion of the fourth StarShip prototype yesterday during the static fire tests was the stain of the Crew Dragon’s debut. The violent outburst occurred at the fifth test ignition of the Raptor engine, an element that still reveals steps forward for the SpaceX spacecraft. The other three prototypes, in fact, had not reached a similar number of ignitions. In September last year, Elon Musk had unveiled the first specimen in style at the Boca Chica site in southern Texas. Then, he announced the first manned flight for this year, also confirming the ambition to colonize the Moon and then Mars.